Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cross Pollination

Today was a successful day because I learned something new. I didn't know a thing about cross pollination until late this afternoon when I picked a Black Beauty zucchini from a Golden Zucchini plant. I first noticed the bright yellow coloring on the green zucchini, then realized that I had plucked it from the golden and not the black plant. This has never happened in my garden before (that I know of)! After doing some research online, I now know why my purple jalapenos don't look like jalapeno peppers at all. I've grown plants from the same seed packet for about three years, but this year they have a different shape. I didn't have a clue before, but now I am blaming it on cross pollination. It's good to have answers.

I've also learned a thing or two about the dreaded squash vine borer. Aunt Susie has asked me several times if I have trouble with worms on my squash. I smugly assured her that I did not. I guess now I've gotten my comeuppance for being smug. When I told a co-worker about my dying zucchini plant, she told me the most disgusting tale about slicing open the root of her squash plant and removing a worm! I told her if that was the problem with my plant, the worm could have it. I think she was right, though. I removed some dead leaves from around the plant base and found that it was indeed mushy and oozing and totally repulsive. I found a link that show the worm inside a plant stem, as well as the adult moth.

I don't want the zucchini enough to dissect the plant and go looking for a worm. I'm a history major; I don't do dissections. The worm can have it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Butterfly Festival

A couple of weeks ago we went to the Butterfly Festival at Close park. They have a butterfly garden, which, strangely, appeared to be butterfly free. All the butterflies were in the new butterfly house, along caterpillars and demonstrations of the entire butterfly life cycle. It was geared to educating children, but it seemed the house was just as full of adults hoping to see a chrysalis transform to a butterfly.

No such luck, but there were plenty of beautiful butterflies to chase around the building with my camera.

We had been to Close Park before and had enjoyed the rose garden and the hosta garden, then walked around the lake. But until this event, we had no idea of the many gardens that were in the park. There is an English garden, a Lily garden, an ornamental grass garden, and many others. This will be a place I will return to again and again to see what is blooming throughout each season. Did I mention that it is free?

The amazing thing is that the garden is strictly a volunteer effort. Donations and public funds keep the garden up and running, and each garden is designed and maintained by volunteers. Ultimately, there are a total of 41 different garden styles planned. Volunteers (Friends of the Garden) have worked for years to raise interest and money for a Botanical Center in the park. That goal has been reached, surprisingly enough, during the most difficult economic environment in many years. The Center is scheduled to open in 2010.

As for my garden, the Black Beauty zucchini is dying and the Lemon squash is producing heavily and taking over the back yard. The Lemon cucumbers are doing pretty good, as well. The rat-tailed radish plant is still producing, thankfully in much smaller quantities. Long beans everyday, along with a few snow peas. The zinnias are blooming all over the place, but they look horrible because of the blasted Japanese beetles. I have a row of pink crepe myrtles (plus one white one, it was an accident) along the neighbor's fence in back , but they only have blooms on the bottom because the beetles apparently started feasting at the top of the plants.

I'm not tired of squash anymore since we started grilling it or roasting it in the oven. Steamed or sauteed squash was really getting old. I'm still waiting impatiently for some tomatoes. I found two perfectly ripe Snow White cherries on the plant this evening, but something had partially eaten them. I'm really not into sharing my tomatoes with birds or rabbits.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tonight I picked sixteen squash, four cucumbers, and a handful of long beans. There may have been more to pick, but I was having trouble getting to everything. I didn't wear my garden gloves because they are dirty and I didn't want to mess up my manicure, so I was trying to pick squash bare-handed. It was very painful, so I didn't dig too deep under the leaves. Besides, lately every time I lift a squash leaf I come face to face with an angry sounding bumble bee. So I just move on and try to pretend I don't notice.

I diced up about a dozen squash and froze them. They were ones that had been laying around for a couple of days and I hated for them to go to waste (and I did just pick 16 more), so I thought I would just freeze them and this winter they would be good in soups or stews.

Tonight I read in Organic Gardening magazine that many heirloom tomatoes can take as long as 100 days to ripen. That made me feel better about my lack of ripe tomatoes. I thought it was some gardening defect on my part, but it is apparently just the nature of the kind of tomatoes I grow. That's OK, they are well worth the wait!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I don't know why I do this to myself. Planting a boatload of onions means I have to dig up and wash a boatload of onions. This is why I don't plant lettuce anymore. I found out I had to pick each leaf, wash each leaf, then spin the whole mess dry. Forget it. I'll buy my lettuce bagged, thank you. But for some reason, I want my own onions. Last year I planted 160. We had onions around all winter long. This year I cut back by about half. Today I plucked 72 onions. It sounds like a lot, but unfortunately, I did a lousy job of keeping the weeds away from the onions and so the majority of them are quite small because they didn't have room to grow. Lesson learned.
I wash the onions outside under the faucet before bringing them in, cleaning off all the dirt and excess skin. By the time I'm about half way through, it no longer matters so much if I take dirty onions into the house. After all, the dirt will clean off easier once it has dried and caked on, right? Anyway, besides the onions, I picked one lemon squash, a lemon cucumber, a Chinese yellow cucumber, and three kinds of yellow squash, one of them a double-header.
Something had dug a crater between the long beans and the former onion patch. Probably a mole. Moles get blamed for everything in our yard.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rat-tail update

I rushed home after work to pick the radish bean pods before the rain started, and in no time I had picked 400 rat-tail beans! No kidding! Plus various squash, cucumber, snow peas, and long beans. A few squash and cucumbers got a bit larger than I would have liked, but the green varieties stay well-hidden behind the huge leaves. The lemon cucumber plant is finally producing, although the cucumbers look white to me. The lemon squash plant is loaded with what look like miniature lemons dangling everywhere. I planted a couple of red long-bean seeds last week and one has sprouted. I can't wait to see these!

Back to the beans, after washing 400 rat-tail radish beans, I chopped off the ends of one and popped it into my mouth. Guess what? It tasted like a radish. Go figure. It was somewhat hot and spicy, and not being much of a radish fan, I wondered what in the world I would do with 400 beans. I went ahead and chopped up a few and added them to our salads, and mixed in with everything else they weren't half bad. So, we can use a handful of them for salads, but I don't know what I am going to do with 400 bead pods. Did I mention that I picked 400 beans today, with more growing of the bush as we speak? Once I was finished with the picking, it didn't really look like that many beans, but it sure sounds like a lot.

Still no sign of any tomatoes turning red, or white, or yellow, or whatever color they are supposed to be besides green. I should have planted nothing but Green Zebra plants this year, then I would have a reason to still have nothing but green tomatoes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rat-Tailed Radish

According to Seed Savers Exchange, the rat-tailed radish is native to South Asia and used not for the root, but for the bean pods the bush produces. It is a rather large bush covered profusely with lovely lavender flowers that serve as a warning as to just how many beans it will soon be producing.

The root is large and unappetizing, to say the least. Radishes are part of the Mustard family, and the name comes from the Latin word radix, meaning "root". The common radishes that most of us are familiar with may have originated in China, but eventually made their way to Egypt, Greece, and Italy. They were introduced to the New World around 1500, and were one of the crops grown by English colonists in America. The rat-tailed radishes (Raphanus sativus 'caudatus') may have originated in India sometime in the 1800's.

The bead pods grow vertically on the branches of the bush. The catalogue says to harvest them before they are fully grown, which is at 4-6" in length, so they are ready for harvest now. I planted the seeds directly outside on May 23rd, so they have taken about eight weeks to be ready to harvest. I bought these seeds because I like to grow unusual vegetables, and I have not been disappointed. Apparently, the are supposed to be eaten raw, though they look rather sharp to me, with the ends growing up all straight and pointy.

Our first zinnia of the season. I forgot to record which varieties I planted where, so I don't know what kind it is. I'm looking forward to all the butterflies the zinnias will attract.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Squash is everywhere. The Lemon squash are particularly lovely and tasty. Last night when I went out to the garden, I discovered it was full of birds. Then I discovered they had been trying to eat my squash! I didn't know that birds liked squash, but a couple of the golden zucchini had peck marks all over them. Who ever heard of needing a scarecrow in a squash patch?

Summer school is over in one week; be back then.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bloom or die

This is my new best friend in the garden. With any luck, he will eat the Japanese beetles that have decimated my roses and will soon have plenty of crepe myrtles to feast on.

While on the way to pick some squash last evening, I was first distracted by the roses that needed pruning. There are only two of them and one is a miniature, so it didn't take much pruning. I was further distracted by the overgrown wisteria tree. It was beginning to look like an alien invader in the process of devouring the backyard.

We bought it about four years ago in late spring from a local nursery, and we were told it was already five years old and therefore could potentially bloom the next spring. So we brought it home and I dug a hole in the ground big enough for a body so the roots would have plenty of room. I watered it thoroughly, then left it alone per my instructions and waited impatiently for what the next spring might bring.

I'm still waiting. Not one bloom. Nothing. Ever. I don't know what to do to make it bloom. I was told that once it was established it would not need any attention other than a semi-annual pruning, so I left it alone. That didn't work, so I tried a Google search and found a woman who insisted her Wisteria never bloomed until she started beating it with a chain. Being fresh out of chains, I have continued with the hands-off approach. If anyone has any less violent suggestions, please share them. Otherwise, I am quite tempted to take an axe to it rather than a chain. It takes up an entire garden plot, but never earns its keep as it should by blooming each spring.

I pruned the beast down to nothing but a handful of leaves and the twisted main trunks. It looks less dangerous now.

Yesterday's harvest. Despite all the pruning, I did finally make my way to the cucurbits. I picked as many more today. We are now having squash and cucumbers with every meal.

The Purple Jalapenos are almost ready to pick. If I let them stay on the bush long enough, they will eventually turn green, but I think they are more attractive in recipes when they are still purple. They are not very hot, which is fine with me, but H (husband) would like something with more heat.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lavender Cotton, Santolina pinnata, subsp. neapolitana, so the tag says. Family Flowers is the place to go for plants that can't be found anywhere else in the area. I had never heard of this plant until last summer when I found an herb garden plan that I liked and had to hunt down several things that were new to me. These were tiny little plants when I set them out last year, but this year they are quite large and have more than filled in their allotted space. It looks nice against the fuzzy gray leaves of the Lamb's Ears.

A native of the Mediterranean, Lavender Cotton is frequently used as a hedge. The leaves can be used as a moth repellent.

The foliage is still quite pretty even after the flowers are gone. I'm not sure I would like to have a hedge of this plant; I like it, but it felt like it took forever to dead-head just two plants.