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 year...as 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.