August 6, 2008


It seems that the rash of blossom end rot was short lived. I do have one tomato plant that looks pretty awful and which I don't expect to make it. Other than that, things seem to be doing ok. Tomatoes of all shapes and colors are coming out of my garden, ripe and healthy, every few days now.

My plot is weedy and messy and every time I walk over to it I feel pangs of guilt (mixed with joy at the great bounty I am getting of course.)

I hate to admit it, but as the season wears on, I find that I get a little tired of the labor part of gardening. I know that I could be planting fall crops now...or soon, but I just feel tired of the battles with bugs and diseases at the moment. And I am not sure I'm up for the daily watering for seeds. I look at the bolted lettuce towers and think " I don't know if I have the energy to start from scratch right now."

I think next year I really need to do a better job of thinking through the things I could do earlier in the season to make August - October easier. Mostly I need to mulch A LOT better and more often in June and July. Other than that I'm not really sure what else I can do. Pace myself? Chill out so I don't run out of steam? Maybe it's just that work is getting busier now (and it usually does in August and September) so I feel more torn.

In fact, I feel almost flooded with ideas for NEXT spring (I think I need to try growing cucumbers UP), but the idea of doing much more than maintenance and clean up in the fall THIS year seems very unlikely.

Either way, I am thrilled to have all the wonderful food even if I feel too lazy to cook anything really amazing with it.

July 28, 2008

Not again!!

I was out of town for about a week so I had someone water the garden and agree to harvest anything that looked ready to go ie: orange cherry tomatoes, lettuce, an eggplant.

They did a great job. Nonetheless I came back to an assortment of good and bad things:

The Good:
a) tons of ripe and ENORMOUS food: all 3 types of eggplant, cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, cucumbers and beets.
b) the Blackeyed Susans now blooming
c) Purple Coneflowers going absolutely crazy and bees going crazy for them.
d) The mint really taking over in the sink
e) A mostly healthy looking garden

The Bad (and often ugly):

1) one tomato plant and stake leaning waaaaay over. Sincere thanks to Captain Awesome for hammering the stake back down with a brick!
2) tons of weeds
3) a very ugly and decrepit looking cucumber plant with icky, moldy-looking (but dry!) black shriveled leaves. I don't think I'll be getting anymore cucumbers this summer.
4) Swiss Chard that has not grown at all due to the leafminer!
5) 2 tomato plants with blossom end rot! How!?

The blossom end rot really pisses me off! I had blossom end rot a few years ago when I didn't quite understand how often you needed to water when it rains, but since then I have been so good about watering. I mulch, I track the rainfall and my own watering and I'm really really careful. Plus I don't understand why some plants would have it and others don't...although the two plants that have it are next to each other...have I been neglecting a corner? I really don't think so.

I guess it could also be the soil in that one spot, but that seems so unlikely.

So I'm feeling annoyed about the leafminer and the blossom end rot and my mysterious cucumber ailment and the weeds that are everywhere and the fact that my neat plot layout is no longer visible, but I love how crazy it is, and I love that it was only from weeding that I "found" the huge eggplants and cucumbers hiding under leaves and that it's getting to be the time of year where I bring something I grew to any BBQ, birthday or picnic I get invited to. I also love that my camera managed to take one glorious shot of bees on the purple coneflower.

July 11, 2008

A new bug to hate

Beet Leafminers suck.

As you all know I really really hate cutworms. That has not changed, but I am realizing that compared to other bad bugs like cucumber beetles and leafminers, they are much easier to tackle.

Here is the deal with the leafminer: They are larvae, they live in the soil, they are hard to see, and get rid of. They eat through the middle of the leaves of beets, chard, spinach and a few other things forming squiggly lines that eventually connect and form big whitish/brownish blotches. The only thing to really do is try to disturb them in the soil by scratching into it and to cut off the affected leaves to prevent them from reinhabiting. Leafminers pretty much go for the leaves which means the beets growing below ground are usually ok. That's ok for the beets, but ya can't eat the greens. Grrr.

I spent about 30 minutes on Tuesday night hacking away at my chard and beets, removing any leaves that looked "mined." The result was a huge pile of food-I-never-got-to eat which I threw in the trash. You can't compost the buggy stuff. That would be evil since the bugs will totally reproduce. I am now the proud owner of a small chard plant with three puny leaves.

I'm really not that mad at the moment because I also made about 4 jars of pesto last weekend, got to eat one lovely sungold cherry tomato Tuesday and harvested an asian eggplant Wednesday night. Things are never perfect, but they could definitely be worse.

July 6, 2008

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Deep down I know that some of my practices in the garden may not actually impact the health of my plants, but are simply garden myths passed down through the ages. I grow marigolds because they are supposed to keep pests away and basil near tomatoes because they are supposed to be good companions. Most gardeners do these things too. We're a superstitious bunch I think.

One of the other "rules" I try to follow is to keep my tomato leaves dry when I water and space the plants far enough apart so that the tomato leaves don't touch each other. Both of these practices are to prevent the spread of diseases and I have seen plenty of sad, spotty tomato leaves after a lot of rain to believe that they're a good idea.

Now I'm not perfect. My garden plot is a little bit more than 100 square feet and It's simply not possible to plant 6 tomato plants and have none of them touch, but I do a pretty good job for the most part. I water at the base of the plant. I cage AND stake and prune (at least a little) to keep the branches moderately under control.

Okay, so the plot right behind mine has some new occupants. They are a lovely couple with a toddler. They are absolute beginner gardeners and magically have strong, healthy looking plants with no signs of bad bugs or diseases. I'm pretty impressed -- beginner's luck for sure! They also planted all of their tomatoes right behind mine in a big row. They put in stakes, but don't seem to be tying the plants to the stakes at all and they haven't pruned anything. As you might imagine, their big, leafy, crazy tomato plants are all over mine. This is not good. For a week or so now I've been feeling pretty helpless. I rarely see the couple and I don't know what I would say to them if I did. Community gardening is supposed to be about community building and getting along. Yeah, ok, but it is ALSO about growing some awesome tomatoes right and fighting against the calamaties that could prevent this? What am I supposed to do?

Two days ago, after pruning and tying up my own tomatoes, I walked around the back of my plot, through the tomato thicket, and sort of pushed (gently I swear) all the branches I could, back over to their side. I was amazed at how well this seemed to work (see the photo.) I just went back today though and all their tomatoes are back over, cuddling up to mine. Grrrrr.

I don't wanna be a jerk or unneighborly and, as I've said, I'm not 100% sure that their tomato plants touching mine is absolutely, definitely a bad thing, but I don't like it -- at all. I also don't like the fact that I don't know how they're watering and my guess is they're just spraying that whole row of tomatoes with a hose from above. Which means that they are spraying MY tomatoes too. So all of my careful watering at the base of the plant so as not to get the leaves wet might be for nothing. Geez, I know I sound uptight here, but c'mon!!

I honestly don't know what I will say if I see them. I like them and I want to be nice : "Heeeey, hiiii, so I wanted to give you some advice about your tomatoes over here." I just don't know how to say it without it coming out snarky. So far everything looks ok though, so perhaps there is nothing to worry about.

Anyway, perhaps I will really try peas next a fence.

July 1, 2008

If you don't like the weather....get a garden

Gardening has changed my perspective in a number of ways, including my appreciation for "weather." If all I was concerned about was my own comfort, I might not ever want it to be anything other than warm, breezy and in the 70s.

Now that I am a gardener though, I really need a lot more "weather" to make things go my way. In the winter I want it to be really cold and snowy to kill bad insect larvae and protect the soil. If the winter is too warm I know the spring will be much more challenging.

For about the past week we've had crazy thunderstorms where it rains, and hard, every other day or so. This is not what we're used to in this part of the country in June, and normally I would be super cranky about a) carrying an umbrella everywhere b) making all of my "outdoor" plans tentative c) the damn humidity. But the garden is loving it AND I haven't had to water in more than a week. This means I can sleep just a little bit later in the mornings and that is really nice.

I feel like one of those super zen sorta folks who are just at peace with the world. When my friends complain about the weather I really only agree with a lame "yeah" so as not to draw attention to myself. The truth is, I think the rain is fine, so long as it doesn't turn cold or rain non stop. That would be bad. Sunshine and warmth with an occasional downpour is actually perfect right now.

I guess that's the other piece of it: I pay a lot more attention to the weather in general and some turns are really not good for the garden and I get annoyed. But again, it's no longer just about my own comfort anymore. The garden has changed how I think about "good" and "bad" days and given me more of a range to appreciate and that is fantastic.

Alright, enough of all that. I have two important flower updates:

1) I HAVE BEE BALM!!! Finally, after 3 years, I really have it (see top photo.) Interestingly, the bee balm I purchased, which is supposed to be purple/magenta (my true favorite) hasn't bloomed yet, but the red that my neighbors gave me -- after they heard how excited I was about it and, unfortunately, after I bought the other plant -- is going in full force.

2) A long time ago, just about when I first started to learn to garden, a friend came to visit and brought me a plant. After a while the blooms died and, in my former life, I definitely would have thrown it away once it started looking unhappy. With my newfound skills however, I decided to try to keep it alive. For three years I've been watering it and trying to make it happy, but it never bloomed again....until now!! I'm not entirely sure what I did right this time, but the plant is called Gloxinia, and is somehow related to the african violet. I now have, in my apartment, one beautiful, fuzzy, large, purple flower and about 3 or 4 more buds. I can hardly believe it's really happening.

June 23, 2008


I don't want to jinx myself so I am crossing my fingers as I type these words: I think this is my best garden season so far.

The poppies look great, the mint seems to be doing ok in the sink, the bee balm looks as though it's about to bloom and I've managed to survive the early bunny attacks. I'm already starting to get a few green tomatoes and its still just June!

For a while there the cucumber seemed to be getting eaten by some kind of bug, but even that looks improved.

I'm sure some unforseen calamity or obstacle is around the corner (there's always something) but for now I'm feeling very proud. Sadly, I think the secret really is buying the plants a little bit later from the farm as I did this year instead of from the non-profit like I used to.

It is true that the arugula has all pretty much bolted and the arugula, cilantro and basil I planted on my porch is going very slowly and doesn't look that great, but the plot itself seems pretty healthy.

I'm still a bit tentative (vs. ruthless) about pruning the tomato plants and removing suckers and "extra branches" even though I know that's really the way to go. I just worry about hurting the plant when a new shoot seems "established." I don't want to get too cocky. I think recognizing that I am doing well while seeing how much better I could be is a good place to pause and celebrate.

June 16, 2008

Garden Sitting Ethics

From June 12th - June 20th I have agreed to water another gardener's plot while they are away in California. That is really all they asked me to do, except for trying to keep their strawberry plants contained in the the little bricked in area they have for them and to encourage their tomato plants to stay in the cages. All of this probably takes about 15 - 20 minutes every other day unless it rains.

I've only had to water a few times so far, but I've already noticed a few things to feel torn about in terms of my moral obligations as a garden sitter.

1) When I first arrived at their plot, they had a big half-full bag of straw mulch sitting in it. It's gone now. I know they're on vacation so I don't want to bother them, but is it safe to assume that someone else was authorized to take the bag or should I be emailing them about the missing mulch?

2) When I water my own tomatoes I always water just the base of the plant so the water will get to the roots and not the leaves under the theory that tomato plants prefer dry leaves and the water can spread diseases. They didn't specify how to water the tomato plants and it does take longer. Obviously the rain gets everything wet so maybe this whole idea of carefully watering only the ground is a dumb one or a superstition, but I am clearly superstitious and I feel bad treating their tomato plants less well than I would treat my own. How far should I go with this? Prune the suckers? Add fish emulsion?

3) Weeding. I haven't done any weeding in their plot, but it could really use it. I think weeding is going above and beyond, but maybe I'll weed a little bit because of my guilt about their strawberries.....

4) They have all of these ripe strawberries! They're just going to rot out there or attract pests if they aren't harvested so...I've decided that it is ok to take them. I feel mostly like it's the right thing to do, but I am a tiny bit worried that they already promised them to someone else without my knowledge and I am essentially stealing them. I could e mail them, but who wants to be bothered on vacation right?

For now I'll water carefully and keep "stealing" the berries.

June 9, 2008

Soap, Hay, Heat

Saturday was insanely hot and muggy. It is likely a sign of my own gardening insanity that I decided to spend a couple of hours in the garden right in the middle of the day. I really had to. I needed to put in the dill and...sadly, plant some swiss chard to replace the final kale plant that the bunnies destroyed.

Physically, I felt 85% totally and completely awful (hot, sweaty, tired, light headed, eyes stinging from the sweat and sunscreen combo dripping in them) and 15% divinely transported, as I always do while gardening.

I am not quite sure what brings on this gardening euphoria and I think at least part of it is the satisfaction of putting in work and getting tangible (and edible)results. On this particular day my gardening glee was due to the following:

1) My California poppies are starting to bloom. These were my favorite flower to see when I lived in Los Angeles and I find it so wonderful that I can grow them here. Plus, they're orange.
2) All of the perennials around the sink (bee balm, purple coneflower, yarrow, chives etc.) look amazing.
3) The tomatoes look better than they ever have at this time during the year (knock on wood)
4) The cucumbers seem to be growing really fast and to have gotten over whatever was making some of the leaves have white spots.
5) Because I had run out of mulch a few weeks ago, I decided to buy a combination of hay and straw called Mainely Mulch. As soon as I started laying it out I thought it looked really pretty next to the dark mulch that I already had and it smelled incredible. It also made me really dirty which, in gardening, makes me really happy. The bag it comes in is a very full cube of hay which also provided an excellent seat for the breaks I had to take while working out there.

I finally made it back inside and slowly labored up the stairs to my apartment and then sat still for a very long time.

Yesterday I waited until after 6PM to get back out in the garden to water...deeply (today is another scorcher) and try out the Irish Spring to fight bunnies. I saw that fox urine was $18 at the farm which seemed VERY STEEP to me. I figured I'd try the soap and then move up from there if need be. The CVS knock off of Irish Spring was only 89 cents!

I wasn't sure what to do to apply the soap, but I took a knife and shaved off some pieces around the lettuce and chard. We'll see how it goes.
I'm just a little concerned about the fact that it has artificial fragrance and color. That can't be too good for the soil. It's just a little bit though so...hopefully it'll be ok...AND work!

June 2, 2008

Make room for Dill

I don't really like dill. I've got nothing against it per se, but it's not really a favorite of mine. In my worry about the dreaded cucumber beetle however, I've decided that dill might just be the herb for me...I just need to find some space for it.

You see, dill attracts parasitic wasps and lacewings which go after cucumber beetles. As my dad astutely commented: I need a thief to catch a thief. Really it's more like I need a killer to catch a killer (as in plant chewer and disease spreader.)

Either way I might take advantage of the sad hole left by the kale the bunny ate and try to put some dill in there.

One site I found even claims that growing dill near cucumber promotes better flavor in the cukes. Sounds good to me.

May 28, 2008

Fox Urine or Irish Spring?

So far this spring I have lost 2 lettuce seedlings and 2 kale seedlings. I believe the culprits are rabbits for the following reasons:

1) I have seen bunnies in and around the garden (they're damn cute by the way, for evil things)
2) The entire top of the plant gets lopped off with a tiny bit of the stem sticking out of the ground.
3) Some of my garden neighbors have had similar problems and noticed teeth marks.

My first fear was that it was cutworms since I have had problems with these before, but when it was the cutworms they usually left the top of the plant lying on the ground and seemed to just eat straight through the middle.

Anyway, I was looking for something to guard against the critters and have found some interesting ideas that I'd like to share. Special thanks to my pal Hockey Lover who used to do landscaping and helped.

Things to prevent bunnies from ruining your garden:

1) Predator Urine -- Fox seems to be the one that is most recommended for bunnies. I found a few websites that sell it. Supposedly the rabbits won't go near things that smell like something that will eat them. Makes sense to me. You can buy urine of Mountain Lions, Coyote, Wolf and Bobcat too! You can even buy little plastic containers with stakes to stick them in the ground. You stick a cottonball in the container and soak it with the fox pee for a slow and steady release of bunny-killer smell.

2) Soap with Sodium Tallowate - Attention Vegetarians! Soaps like Irish Spring, Zest, Safeguard etc. contain animal fat. I assume this works for the same reasons that predator pee works. The basic idea is that you chip it off and leave the little pieces around the plant. I did see one review that said that the smell was annoying (some people don't like Irish Spring fresh scent I gather) and that the little soap pieces melt and look like mold.

3) Blood Meal - Lo and behold I just added some Pro-Gro to all of my seedlings on Monday and one of the ingredients is blood meal. We did have a heavy rain though so I might try some soap next. Again, I think anything that smells like danger to the scared little bunny will keep it away.

4) Motion Sensor Toad that "croaks" - This is just ridiculous and would probably annoy the hell out of me AND keep kids loitering in my garden plot even more than they do now with my sink. You see its a little statue of a toad that croaks when it detects movement. I am sure that the bunnies would run away from this thing, but seriously, no thanks!

May 26, 2008

Big Garden Day on Cucumber Hill

It finally warmed up enough to feel like a real Memorial Day Weekend, ie: the weekend when it is safe to plant tomatoes. So that's what I did.

Here's how the weekend looked:

I woke up on Saturday morning raring to go, but made myself wait until 10AM when Ms. Knapsack -- a new gardener who was joining me for the day -- arrived. She and I hopped in Murphy's Mom's car and headed to the farm. I ran around like a crazy (excited) person and tried really hard to calm down at least a few times. After about an hour I had $90 worth of stuff including 5 tomato plants, flat leaf parsley, 2 six packs of different types of eggplant, basil, 4 bags of enriching mulch, jalapeno peppers and "dwarf" cucumbers. A few hours after getting home my garden plot went from "just ok" to "kinda awesome." Thanks again to Ms. Knapsack who helped a ton. I'm also sorry that I accidentally planted her tomato seedling thinking it was mine. Wooops! Now I have 6 tomato plants. Hopefully the extra seedlings I gave her will earn me forgiveness.

I've never grown jalapenos or cucumbers before but...I figured I might as well try. I am nervous about the cucumber since I've had cucumber beetles in my plot for the past two years without even growing cucmber, but the fact that it won't need to climb on anything (I believe the word "dwarf" is referring to the size of the plant not the size of the cucumbers) I figured I could give it a shot. I had given up on peppers as well, but my community garden neighbors have said that the "hot" peppers are easier to grow than the ones I've tried before.

Cucumbers like a mound to grow on so I created one, stuck the seedlings in the middle and called it Cucumber Hill. Now I just have to hope that the evil critters that have now consumed 2 lettuce seedlings and 2 kale seedlings leave the cucumber alone... otherwise the hill name will make no sense at all.

I'm pretty sure the evil munchers are bunnies and not cutworms and if they weren't so adorable, work when I am asleep, and FAST I think I might kill them. They are darn cute and speedy AND impossible to catch in the act, so I think they're quite safe.

In terms of layout I kept tomato lane as last year and moved the eggplant to a new locale. It's hard to do much crop rotation with a 100 something square foot garden plot and a layout I already like.

Oh and I got to eat some of my holey (thanks to flea beetles) arugula for dinner tonight. That's my first food from the garden so far this year which made it all the more delicious!

May 21, 2008

Sage success and failure

I broke down and got some new sage. The old, dead stuff just wasn't coming back and it was starting to depress me.

I think this is one of the things I need to get better at now that I am not really a "novice" anymore -- even though I still feel like one. That is, I need to figure out how to keep "tender perennials" alive over the winter in New England. I know it can be done because some of the other gardeners around have sage and rosemary that I know they didn't just buy at a store.

I also think it might be time for me to grow something that requires a little bit of vertical construction. Other than tomatoes, I've never tried anything that needs to grow "up" like peas or even cucumbers that like to climb. I'm scared though....and sometimes that is the best time to do something.

I still have time to do it this year since it's been so cold and I still don't have much in the ground ie: I still have the space. It's too late for peas, but maybe cukes. Memorial Day weekend is coming up and the idea that it would be time for tomatoes to go in the ground seems ridiculous given the temperature even though I see that other gardeners have everything in already. They clearly know how to do things that I don't. I mean, I've already lost two lettuce seedlings and one kale seedling to who knows what calamity (bugs, bunnies, what?) so I'm not feeling super confident.

That said, I can see that my beet seeds are coming up nicely. No carrot action yet but I really think I dumped too many seeds in that row. I think I need to re-plant those AND find something to fill in the holes created by my kale and lettuce vacancies.

I'll be headed to the farm again this weekend so maybe I'll get some ideas.

PS: Shed photo as promised

May 12, 2008

Back in Business

Let's set aside the fact that I am probably the worst blogger ever. I'm back now and I have garden-related things to tell you. The biggest problem -- much like when you haven't spoken to a friend or a family member in a long time -- is that I'm not sure where to begin.

Let's start with the Steering Committee political stuff, move on to "garden year resolution" and talk about the work I've done so far.

There are a few really good community garden developments since I last posted including the fact that we finally built a shed! It's not totally and completely finished yet (ie: we need to build an interior wall to separate the dangerous stuff (rider mower, fuel, etc.) from the safer stuff that we want gardeners to have access to. Once we get that done we can put a combination lock on it so that all the gardeners will be able to access things like tools, trash bags etc. plus we can probably invest in smaller things like hand tools and gloves and even store abandoned and useful items like leftover tomato stakes or cages. I think it's going to be great. It also looks lovely. Photo of the shed in progress is here but I will get one of the finished product (a lovely pale blue) to post soon.

The entire 7 person steering committee is up for re-election this Spring and so far I know 3 current members aren't running. Nominations are due in the next week or so and except for the existing members no one else has nominated anyone for the committee. This is not encouraging. I can only guess that this is either because a) the garden seems well run and so no one is dying to get on the committee and whip us into shape or b) something about it seems like an awful lot of trouble and not much fun. I think both are sort of true, but I plan to beat the bushes for some nominees!!

We also have some really good compost this year from a local landscaping business. In the past we got the compost from the city, but this year we paid this company to come and cart off all of our dead plant matter in the Fall and then they delivered (and will keep delivering) this really dark, gorgeous looking compost this Spring. So far no little bits of metal or plastic like we've had the past two years. Ew. Don't worry we tested the city stuff last year (when we saw the icky bits) and it was fine. It's still better not to see it.

My garden year resolution is NOT to buy seedlings from the womens shelter this year. I like the idea but getting the plants in mid-may and trying to keep them alive on the porch for 3 weeks just wasn't working. I feel like it was the right call since I'm pretty sure the pick up would have been this past Saturday and it's in the 40s today. Brrrrr. The only real risk, I think, is that all of the best tomato seedlings could be gone from the farm if I don't get there early enough and then I might need to venture to new parts of town to find plants.

I've already turned everything over and added about 5 wheelbarrows of the gorgeous compost to my plot. I've decided to keep the layout pretty much the same although I have this idea that I might upgrade my big brick and rock scenario -- which never lies flat enough to walk on really well -- for some nice flat terracotta tiles that I see people have in their plots. I don't know where to get them though so the bricks and rocks will stay for now. I also decided to add another place to walk along the right edge of the plot (where I share the divider with a neighbor) to make things easier. I still don't feel like I've got the best, coolest, most efficient layout of my dreams but I think it works.

Yesterday I very sloppily planted carrot, beet (red and golden) and carrot seeds. I have some cilantro seeds starting to sprout and I finally got myself some bee balm. In fact I spend a lot (like $15 which is a lot for a garden plant) to get some and then of course a neighbor was horrified because he had so much and it was threatening to take over his yard and he wished I had just asked him first. The bee balm I purchased seemed (from the label) to be the purple kind and I was so bummed about ending up with lemon balm (thinking it was bee balm) last year that I still took some of his (that he says is red) off his hands. I hope they both grow well and that I end up with so much bee balm and attract so many bees that I can hear my plot buzzing from yards away. This will also be my 2nd attempt at flowers that are not yellow or orange so that's exciting.

In addition to all of that I have:

Moved things around: the lavender is away from the shadow of the sink

Gotten rid of things: divided the black eyed susan and the yarrow and got rid of the yellow coreopsis and lemon balm.

Tried to revive things: I had the most beautiful purple sage last year and it doesn't seem to be coming back. I keep watering the twiggy ends and saying encouraging things but I don't think it's working.

Planted: Kale, Lettuce and Arugula seedlings. The flea beetles are already all over my Arugula which now, after a couple of years of experience, gives me great hope for my future eggplant.

And finally, I planted some mint in the sink (plus some more california poppy seeds.) It grows like a weed around here so I'm hoping this will be the thing that finally helps my sink fulfill it's garden destiny.

I think that's pretty much it for now. More to come soon. I promise.