Friday, July 31, 2009

Little Known Garden Truths

There are some things I have been thinking about lately, some common facts that were just not known to me until this year of gardening. Some little known garden truths to this newbie, certainly of no surprise to all of you:
  1. Tomato stalks get some serious girth. Totally not expecting 'tree trunks' from a tomato plant.
  2. Beneficial insects really will come in and be garden super-heroes if one is patient and waits.
  3. Hybrid produce will not allow you to produce it true to form again next year, even if you tried.
  4. Heirlooms have many wonderful qualities, but seed saving is not possible if they cross pollinate or are ridden with disease- and that last bit is throwing a huge wrench in my seed saving plans.
  5. Bugs are sometimes beautiful. We all love butterflies and buzzing bees, but without this garden I would have missed out on seeing all those colorful, oddly shaped, creepy little buggers eating my plants!
  6. Blogging is fun.
  7. Gardeners are wonderful, generous people, and are always willing to teach what they know to others. THANK-YOU!

(P.S.- Reading other people's blogs has become my new past time, those novels are getting pretty dusty on the night stand. There is a search option in the right margin of this blog and it is pretty cool if I don't say so myself, so give it a whirl. Type in "pepper" or "rain" and see where it leads you.....the results will be provided at the top of the page in a number of categories including this blog (not so exciting), links referenced in this blog (which means yours or other's garden blogs), and 'The Web'. I never remember its there and continue to leave this page when looking for more information, DUH!?! Hopefully writing about it here will change that.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yesterday's Garden Walkthrough

When I went out yesterday morning to do some watering and harvesting I found a honey bee doing a dance in this squash blossom. Of course I didn't have my camera and by the time I had retrieved it the fella was gone. Moments later another bee arrived. I am not sure what type this one is though.

This is the bushy, furry asparagus bed with a handful of dahlias thrown in. I peered in around back, and sure enough, new spears are still emerging. I figured they would be done by now since most have gone to seed and they are a "Spring crop". Maybe they are just trying to catch up from their late start?

Welcome to the tomato jungle! There are quite a few plants with diseases, but so far this hasn't affected the fruit production. All the plants seem to have caught up to one another in size (some were started much earlier than others). The flavor of the Juliet Plums is superb, but their size in my opinion only makes them good for fresh eating. I couldn't imagine trying to make sauce out of those tiny things.
Here's a good one.....whats the biggest thing in my garden? The sunflower seedling my son brought home in a Dixie cup from pre-school, ha! The sweet potato vines underneath are finally starting to ramble. (Don't mind the weeds.)
This is one of the handful of winter squash growing in containers. I never thinned this pot and there are two plants growing in there, I hope they have enough room to get through the season. I don't see how they could but I just don't have the heart to pull one out now.
These beans are a 'fall sowing'; the muskmelon seedlings originally in this straw bale were eaten by critters in the night. I added some dog hair and metal wire for good measure and so far they have been left alone.
The neem spraying on the apple trees has not helped any, in fact they are worse. I think the situation is too far gone and requires a more potent chemical. The trees are not happy, hard to put into words, but I can just tell things are not good. I used Bonide Garden Dust (an insecticide-fungicide) today and gave them a fish emulsion feeding. I don't know if the dust will work any better than the neem, but if I don't stop the insect damage soon these trees may weaken beyond repair.

Next year I will be sure to use the neem proactively (as Ruralrose suggested) along with Horticultural & Dormant oil spray. If anyone has any other suggestions please share them! I know most literature calls for regular spraying of fruit trees, and I was hoping to avoid it if at all possible......maybe that just isn't realistic?
Lastly, yesterday's garden bounty. BLT's and refrigerator pickles are in my future, this is what I have waiting for all summer!! My bucket was actually heavy today, weighing in at four and a quarter pounds, YEAH!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New Arrivals

The order I placed over at Edible Landscaping arrived today. After Travis was done with his inspection I opened her up......unfortunately, the item I have been pining for arrived damaged, but hopefully it will recover and will not need to be replaced.

Notice the top of my poor little fig down in front of the container rather than up on top of the stem where it belongs. Also included in the order is an ornamental citrus called Flying Dragon, and a Blanca White Current. The fig will not be winter hardy in my zone 6, so it will spend the summers on the deck and come in inside for the coldest months of the year. (It's pot has been patienly awaiting it's arrival, visible in the backround of the photo along with all the other stuff.) I have some work to do.....

The Incredible, Edible Eggplant

After seeing the 'egg' in the eggplant I was curious to see if this was in fact the origin of the name. In short, yes. Back in the day old European varieties resembled eggs, but interestingly enough in other places in the world it goes by other names such as aubergine, brinjal, egg apple, and Guinea squash. The Feds say Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing us Americans to this lovely vegetable. Need a few more reasons to eat your eggplant? How about antimutagenic, antiviral, and antimicrobial for starters, or one of my personal favorites, an excuse to eat more mozzarella cheese. (I guess its a good thing eggplant also does good things for my cholesterol too!)

In some parts of the country eggplant can be heavily cut back to produce a second harvest. Here are some tips on selection and storage from WHFoods:

Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.

The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.

Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in their storage. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold and should ideally be stored at around 50 degrees Farenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.

Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay. Instead, place it on a shelf within the refrigerator.

If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible since it will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.

Have you heard about Eggplant sex? Well if not go here and learn all about an eggplant's supposed sex organs, and while your at it check out the many great varieties described and pictured from all over the world.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Garden Update

Here is a recent harvest of lettuce, peas, tomatoes, cukes, and squash. This is starting to be a typical day of picking for me which is very cool.

I am deliberating over whether or not to dig up the rest of my Yukon Gold potatoes yet. This will be my second dry day in a row, a rarity these days. Scattered T-Storms are in the forecast over the next week. If I have late blight and don't know it, leaving them in the ground for another week or two would be beneficial. Will all this wet weather encourage them to rot if I leave them be?

I think some of my peppers are ready for harvest. The Joe NuMex variety is to be picked while small and green I believe.....but I am not even positive that is the variety I am talking about. They have grown quite a bit since I took this picture. Maybe they are the Carmen Sweet Peppers?? Little fingers removed all my markers. Edit: Joe E. Parker is an Anaheim chili.

I have a few baby eggplant growing, very exciting stuff! (I think I now know why it is called an 'egg-plant'!)

The green beans and zucchini are there for picking every now and again. I ripped out most of the beans since they were ridden with blight (pictured below). Most of them were laying on the soil, not climbing the trellis as they should have been.....the heirloom varieties are just not holding up as well for me. The good news is the other bean patch is disease free so far (me knocking on wood).

Here is a close-up of the first dahlia to bloom. I put the tubers in the perimeter of the asparagus bed which seems to working out so far, the asparagus is holding them up!

Pruning Raspberry and Blackberry Plants (from


What Kind of Raspberry are Your Pruning?
There are 2 bearing categories for raspberry plants:
1.Summer Bearing (floricane) Raspberries will provide 1 large harvest, usually in late summer or early fall. Summer bearing raspberries bear fruit on 2 year old canes, the canes that sprouted last season. Summer bearing raspberries can be further categorized as early season, mid-season and late season. The harvest period lasts about 4 -5 weeks.

2.Everbearing (primocane) Raspberries aren’t really everbearing, but they do generally have 2 harvests per season; one in mid-late summer and one in the fall. They fall crop will probably be a bit lighter and is on 1 year old canes of the current season. Many fall bearing raspberries bear so late in the fall that they are not practical for gardeners in short season climates.

How and When to Prune Raspberries
A Word of Caution: Wear thick gloves; raspberries have serious thorns. And use clean, sharp tools.


•Prune all canes that bore fruit last year; they won’t fruit again. These will have grayish, peeling bark.

•Remove any canes that have grown outside the 12 - 18 inch designated row footprint.

•Remove any spindly or short canes.

•Thin so that there is about 4-5 of the healthiest, tallest and fattest canes left per foot along the length of the row.

•Tie remaining canes to your fencing.

•To force your everbearing raspberries to produce only one crop in the fall, prune back the entire raspberry bush in early spring. As the canes grow back in the summer, remove outside suckers and thin the canes to about 6 inches apart. Keep the sturdiest canes. This technique will give you a larger fall harvest and is good if you also have summer bearing raspberry bushes and you want to stagger the harvests.

•Prune dead, broken or diseased canes.

•Prune any canes that poke up outside your designated row area.
Of course, you can prune broken, dead, diseased or infested canes at any time of the year, the sooner the better.


Blackberries aren’t quite as enthusiastic growers as raspberries, but they will yield better with regular pruning. And as with raspberries, they can be prone to diseases that spread rapidly in unmaintained plants.
How and When to Prune Blackberries
Blackberries can also have dangerous thorns. Gloves are recommended and clean, sharp tools are also necessary. There are some modern blackberry varieties that are virtually thornless and they make pruning a lot less hazardous.

Newly Planted Blackberry Plants
Pinch or prune off the growing tips of all new canes to encourage side shoots (laterals). This is where next seasons blackberries will grow.

Maintaining Bearing Blackberry Plants
•Prune out all canes that bore fruit, shortly after harvest. (It’s advisable to dispose of all clippings, either by burning or taking to the dump. Dead canes can spread disease.)

•Thin canes to about 5 - 7 per plant.
•Prune side branches on remaining canes to about 12 inches or 12 buds.
•Tie the pruned canes to your fencing.
As with raspberry plants, you can prune broken, dead, diseased or infested canes at any time of the year, the sooner the better.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I like to cook, and almost more than cooking, I love to read over recipes looking for that next 'favorite'. So, are you wondering what to do with all those cherry tomatoes and bunches of fresh basil from the garden? Try Bow Ties with Pesto, Feta..... Or maybe its slicing tomatoes you have covering your counter? Make an Heirloom Tomato Basil Tart.

Don't like pesto? Here are some alternatives:
Beefsteak Stack Salad, with onions, Roquefort, and balsamic syrup

Like goat cheese? Then this one's for you! Pizza lover? Then how about a Summer Tomato Pie? All of these recipes came from the Food Network, and as of this writing I haven't tried any of them.....but that won't be the case for long!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Three Dogs

A blogger friend and fellow dog lover had asked for me to post a picture of my dog sometime. We were talking about herders in one of her posts (here). So, these are the four legged members of our family.......this one is for you Erin!

This first one is my little girl Ivy. She had her first birthday this Spring. People told me I was crazy for getting a puppy when I had a one year old to watch over. I figured the house is already baby(and therefor puppy) proofed so why not? We weren't looking, it just kind of happened. I carry a lot of guilt for buying a puppy this time around (as opposed to rescuing), but she is wonderful with the kids and my daughter just adores her. Ivy LOVES water, harassing her brothers, and jumping around like a bouncy ball.

This next one is Travis. He was a rescue and came to us when he was 18 months old. He is getting to be an old bird (7 to be exact) and enjoys hunting furry things, chasing squirrels and rides in the truck, so much so that he refuses to be left inside when we head out and will sometimes feel so strongly about coming along that he will lay behind my rear tire so I can not leave with out him. He sleeps with my daughter and is one stinky, stinky beast. Oh, and he is also in charge of the 'Neighborhood Watch'.

Lastly we have Andy. He is also a rescue and my first dog as a "grown-up", the one that all future dogs will have to live up to. He is an extremely neurotic creature and shadows me where ever I go. This boy never barked (as in we had never heard him, even once) until I became pregnant with our first child. He has been my protector ever since. To the best of any one's knowledge he is a Border Collie and Nova Scotia Duck Toller mix, an escape artist, and loves to do nothing but be with his people. He has a freakish quality of not needing to be bathed, ever, and is estimated to be 11-13 years old.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mass Destruction

I have never despised cute furry creatures so much. When the rabbits mowed down all of my beautiful crocuses this year, I let it go. When somebody had a field day in the bean,pea, and melon patches, I let it go. But not this time....this time I am holding a grudge. Here are my discoveries made today out in the garden, the destruction is massive. I feel as though these images should come with a 'WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES TO FOLLOW' sign.

(I know I am being a bit dramatic but in a matter of days I may have had an apple tree and a grape vine destroyed to the point of no return by little teeth. I am desperately hoping this will not be the case.)

OK, first discovery: the Mexican Bean Beetles have arrived.

Secondly: my little vine was further defoliated over the evening. Only a handful of leaves remain. I immediatly wrapped it in row cover and emptied my vacuum canister around the perimeter (dog hair)....I don't know what else to do.

Third discovery: bark stripping (by now I am walking in circles, fuming). Thankfully it is not girdled, but there is a lot of damage here. (Spitzenburg Apple)

Fourth: This is the other tree, thankfully not as severe.
(Liberty Apple)

And the big five: More pest and disease pressure. The Spitzenbug has so many things to fight right now. There is quite a pit of pest damage here, and also some disease which I have yet to pinpoint, a few lesions are visible in this photograph.

The one and only positive discovery- we have cantaloupe blossoms! This is the only vine of any size worth mentioning, and the only one flowering at the moment.

I am so angry with myself for not protecting the tree trunks, but I thought bark eating was a seasonal issue, meaning that as long as they were protected come Fall all would be good. Wrong. I tried an OMRI approved insecticide on the affected tree but it isn't reducing the pest pressure any. I was not yet willing to pull out the 'big guns', but finding the bark damage today has changed that. This evening we will be wrapping the trunks in mesh and spraying some nasty chemicals. I am thinking of having one of us hold up a barrier behind the tree as we spray so as to contain the droplets as much as possible. I will also spray at dusk when fewer beneficials are active. In a day or two I will follow it up with a foliar spray of fish and kelp emulsion and then just keep my fingers crossed that the damage is repairable, and that there will not be more in the future.

Herb Butters

(Note- For some reason Blogger is not editing correctly, I am unable to change/control paragraph spacing. My apologies!) Herb butters are a great way to put those left-over herbs to use. This past week I did two batches, one with basil and the other with parsley. The butters can add fresh flavor to pasta, vegetables, meats, or bread. Here are the recipes:
1/2 C chopped, fresh basil; 3 cloves garlic, minced; 1/4 lb. butter, softened; salt and pepper to taste.
Beat ingredients together in a small bowl, wrap into a cylinder and chill. Makes about one half cup. Recipe courtesy of The Complete Book of Sauces.
1-1/2 bunches parsley, stems removed
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 pound butter, diced into small cubes, cold

Place the parsley, garlic, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade and pulse until evenly minced and well blended.
Add the cubed butter to the parsley-garlic mixture. Process, scraping down the sides as needed, until the butter is softened and mixture is well blended. The butter should be light green in color.
The butter may be placed into a ramekin, or shaped into a log and rolled in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready for use. Makes 2 cups. The butter can be held for at least a week in the refrigerator, or frozen for several weeks. recipe courtesy of the CIA
I used some of the parsley butter to make mashed potatoes with Yukon Golds from the garden. The kids wouldn't eat them because of the green, but that just left more for us adults! I put the butters into freezer bags and press them flat. Then all I need to do is pull a bag from the freezer and break off what ever amount I need for my recipe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Green Friend and Foliar Spray

My friend Linna was on Emeril Green recently as a gardening expert. She is truly passionate about the subject, and in fact, she was the one who turned me on to Square Foot Gardening about 6 years ago. She convinced me that I could in fact go buy some soil, containers, and seeds and grow veggies on my deck! That first attempt at gardening had more failures than successes but it didn't matter, I was bit by the gardening bug.

So here she is, her TV debut:

I went to Brix Bounty Farm yesterday evening for a talk about Foliar Spraying. It was very informative and I really enjoyed going for a walk through the fields to see some of Derek's battles with the soil. (Late Blight has made it's way to his farm as well, though just recently from the looks of it.) Here is some of what I took away from the experience:
  • The purpose of foliar spray is to stimulate or nudge the roots to put out exudates (or acids). The exudate help various exchanges take place and break down the minerals and other matter in the soil making it easier for the roots to take it in. This does not require fertilizer or nutrients, it can be done with water mixed with sugar or a small amount of vinegar.
  • The best time to spray is when the stomata on the undersides of the leaf are open (under clouds or fog, early AM and later in the evening).
  • Recommended frequency: one time per week is ideal, but every two weeks is also sufficient.
  • Humic Acid can be added for "chelation". Chelation has to do with ions and is quite complicated, but in short it helps make substances more available to plants and stabilizes soils.
  • Organic Molasses provides sugar for the microbes.
  • Ocean water can be used in diluted quantities to provide trace elements. (I now have a new use for my aquarium water after a water change!)
  • Fresh grass clippings can be added to water to steep for about 10 days, then added to foliar as a Nitrogen source.
  • The finer the mist the better= pump or back pack sprayers best.
  • Lancaster Agriculture is a good resource for bulk natural and organic gardening products that can be hard to find elsewhere. He uses this company for things like organic molasses and mentioned there is a greater market for their products in PA from the Amish. They have a great reference on Soil Nutrients on their site.

Basically I am not spraying frequently enough. Past references had talked about spraying every couple of months or at certain stages, such as transplant, bud or fruit set I will be increasing my frequnecy along with adding some molasses to the mix. (In my opinion the best part about the molasses is its ability to cut down the yucky fish smell!!)

Monday, July 20, 2009


Something ate my grape's leaves, stripped three-quarters of the vine clean. Must be rabbits. Or mice. This plant has been in it's nursery pot inside my garden waiting to be planted for waaay too long and it was untouched. Yesterday we FINALLY built the trellis and planted the darn thing......the horror!

That was of coarse the longest vine, the one I was planning on keeping and turning into the main stem come next year. @!*#@ * rodents. Guess I should have tied it up last night instead of propping it off the ground with a pot.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Second Sowing

This weekend the peas were ripped out and some root vegetables were sown. The peas were still producing rather well but I have some succession sowings that are ready to be harvested so that made the decision easier. I picked up two new carrot varieties, Burpee's Short n' Sweet and Petite n' Sweet; both are recommended for growing in small spaces and heavy soils. I also sowed some Golden Beets. I went through all of my Chioggia seeds with out getting one beet, hopefully I will have better luck this time around.

I pulled another carrot today out of curiosity and was very happy to see that it was perfectly straight (I thought to take a picture after I had eaten a few bites).

We also built the grape trellis, but more on that later. This gorgeous creature was hanging around while I was ripping out the peas.

Potato Blight and The Great Gatsby

For eight years we have been spoiled by going to a yearly dinner at the Rosecliff Mansion in Newport RI. Many people are familiar with the ballroom since it was used to film scenes for the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby, The Betsy, High Society, True Lies, and Amistad. The structure and grounds are so grand, and truly amazing...this year I finally brought my camera along to capture a few photos:

The faces of these ceiling medallions (top right) have always creeped me out a little, they surround the perimeter of the ballroom so you are always being 'watched'.

One of the many beautiful statues of the grounds.


A rarely taken photo of husband and wife (one out of eight years isn't bad right? LOL)!


On to the nasties. Still not sure if this is late blight.

Late Blight Worries

I have been faithfully checking my garden daily for signs of late blight. Every spot makes me question it's origin. Today I found a few potato leaves that are making me nervous. I have been spraying a fungicide weekly as recommended but with almost daily rain fall it is just being washed away.

This site has been the best I have seen for photo IDs of late blight symptoms. I will go and compare my removed leaves to the photos, wish me luck!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Carrot Files; Foliar Feed Day

The Carrot Files
There are mysteries that cannot be solved...

Date: 07/16/2009
Location: An undisclosed garden in Southeastern Massachusetts.

An extremely malformed carrot was pulled from what seemed to be loose, rubble free earth.

This case remains unsolved.


Did a foliar feed today with a fish & seaweed emulsion and Azomite. It has been a couple of months since the last one. I also did a compost tea shot for my nightshades that seem to be struggling a bit yesterday, and today I will do the asparagus bed. I have been using a non-aerated compost tea, just a days soak in the sunshine and into the soil it goes.

I ordered the Azomite powder through the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Bulk Order. It is something I had never heard of or seen locally, but I thought my new soil could benefit from some amending.

Azomite, powder (0-0-2.5, 5% Ca) Named for its A-to-Z of Minerals
including Trace Elements; contains over 67 minerals beneficial to plants and
animals. CR has grown better tomatoes since he started using Azomite and likes
it for corn and melons too. Now a standard supplement in garlic beds. Broadcast
at 300-600# an acre, approximately 1-2#/100 sq ft. Use in potting soil and
compost. Also recommended as a foliar feed; allow the heavier portion to settle
before adding to the sprayer. As a liquid fertilizer add 1 tsp/gal. Mined in
Utah, put through a 200 mesh screen. OMRI

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Potato Problem Solved

The thing I love about gardening is that there is always more to learn. I have learned that my potatoes are probably just dying off naturally. They are an early variety and went in the ground around Easter, so this makes sense right? I have also learned that potatoes don't always flower. That explains a lot!

Interestingly enough if they do flower, the color of the petals indicates the color of the skin. White flowers mean white skin potatoes and colored flowers mean pinkish skins. It is common for Verticillium to be easily confused with the culms (stalks) dying back naturally. Potatoes will stop forming once soil temps reach 80 degrees and grow best in 60-70 degree F soils.

Lastly, Yukon Golds are known for their poor yields so finding lots of tiny taters mixed in with the big boys isn't that unusual.

The Garden Buzz

This busy bee was keeping me company as I did my garden walk through. It took many tries, but I finally caught a shot of it on the flower.

Some bumblebee fun facts: Did you know that male bumblebees have a tell tale fuzzy yellow mustache? (I didn't until now) The sex of this one will remain a mystery along with it's ability to sting. It is true that male bumblebees can not sting, they have 'boy bits' instead! The females however have the ability to sting repeatedly (no barbs) so take caution when looking for that mustache!

Bees go out foraging and mark the flowers they have visited with a scent. It seems as though bumbles will continually visit the same flowers, and at the same time avoid those that have been recently visited by other bees. The one I photographed had 'a full pollen basket', so it must have been nearing the end of it's foraging trip. Gotta love bees!


That's the cucurbit bed. My little guy was gushing over how "soft and adorable" the flowers were, LOL. It turns out my cukes are a cold tolerant variety which explains their happiness compared with all others in the same family. I have also been very happy with the minimal vine length and spread. These are the Northern Pickling variety from Johnny's:

"A high-yielding, early variety for salads and pickling.
Medium green fruits bear early, and set heavily on short, space-saving vines. Fertilize well and pick frequently at a small size to maintain good color and fruit shape.Developed in Maine."

I had read somewhere to put foil at the base of your winter squash to deter the Squash Vine Borers. Anybody else ever tried this?




(A result of the cold I believe.)