Thursday, July 24, 2008

Siamese Squash

Welcome to the vegetable freak show, featuring the Siamese Squash! This is no optical illusion friends. These two independent squash were actually fused together on the vine, forever connected in body and spirit!

siamese squash

Although they were born of separate flowers ...

siamese squash

They share one stem!

siamese squash

We also like to lovingly refer to this duet as the "squash king" in honor of the folklore of the rat king. We ate the squash king this past weekend, and it tasted just as delicious as a regular squash!

When we were at Epcot in May, we found that the friendly folks at Disney like to experiment with mutated squash too. They put ordinary pumpkins into mickey mouse shaped molds while they are still growing on the vine.

epcot farming

Once at full size, the pumpkins take the shape of the famous mouse! This pumpkin now owes Disney royalties for taking the shape of their most beloved and expensively copyrighted character!

epcot farming

Our squash king mutated on its own, but there are plastic vegetable molds you can purchase to mold squash into fun shapes. I think I might need one of these. That garden elf is just too cute!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Growing Eggplant

We planted twelve eggplant plants this year, sown indoors in mid-February. Since we have no experience growing eggplant, we chose eight different varieties in order to find the types that grow best in our soil. We chose the Asian trio from Renee's Garden (which consists of Asian Bride, Little Fingers and Farmer's Long), Italian trio from Renee's Garden (which consists of Rosa Bianca, Beatrice and Nadia), Hansel from Park's Seeds and Lavender Touch from Park's Seeds. I was surprised to learn that there are so many more types of eggplant than the big fat ones you find in the grocery store! The seeds germinated rather slowly, and the seedlings grew even slower, but we did have near 100% success rate with the seedlings. Once transplanted into the garden, the seedlings from Renee's Garden had a higher success rate than those from Park's Seeds. Several of the Park's Seeds seedlings damped off and had to be replaced.

This is how small the plants were when they were first set out into the garden. (The eggplant are in the center of the garden between the lettuce and soybeans.) This was three months after sowing the seeds. We placed paper cup collars over the plants to prevent cutworm injury. Eggplant should not be planted in the garden until night time temperatures remain above 50 degrees since they are very temperamental about cold temperatures, which stunt their growth.

lettuce, spinach, eggplants and soybeans in the vegetable garden

Here is their progress a month later. You can see holes in the leaves caused by the flea beetles.

eggplant growing

And here is their present state, finally reaching the height of the soybeans.

eggplant garden quadrant

I was so excited to see the first eggplant flowers form, as I had no clue where eggplant fruit came from. I have never actually seen an eggplant plant until I planted them myself!

eggplant flower

The thick velvety flowers open to a lovely shade of purple with bright yellow centers. Each of the plants is full of flowers right now. One plant has over twenty flowers on it!

eggplant flower in bloom

Bees work hard to pollinate the flowers, which eventually form fruit, in the same way tomatoes form their fruit.

eggplant flower in bloom

Here is our first eggplant fruit! I think it is going to be a Nadia. I was very bad about mixing up the seedlings and not mapping out their final location in the garden, so it will be a surprise when they all start to fruit!

baby eggplant on the plant

Not only are eggplant slow growers and fickle about cold temperatures, but they are very susceptible to flea beetle attacks. When the plants were very small, this was a serious problem, because a couple flea beetles could do a lot of damage to the pair of tender leaves. I did have to spray them with Sevin twice, since the organic spray solutions did not help. Once the plants grew larger and stronger, I stopped spraying. Now I just pick the beetles off the plants in the morning and afternoon. A few beetles won't do much damage to a large plant, so I just keep them under control manually. I hate spraying, but you have to be as persistent as the flea beetles if you are going to control them without spray. I have a lot of respect for organic eggplant farmers after this experience! I can't imagine how they do it.

We enjoy eggplant in numerous dishes; we put them in curry, grill them with olive oil, salt pepper, and roast them in the oven. I am looking forward to trying some eggplant parmesan too! Although it is my favorite Italian dish, we have never tried to make it at home.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Soybean Harvest

I direct sowed Shironamai soybeans in early May. The seed packet claims 70 days from sowing to harvest, and I think we began harvesting at exactly 70 days! We love to eat edamame, which are soybeans boiled in the pod for just three minutes then seasoned with sea salt. You position the seasoned pod in front of your mouth like a harmonica, then gently squeeze each bean out of the pod directly into your mouth. The beans have a fresh nutty flavor, and they are quite healthy. We like to use a bit of cayenne pepper along with salt to give them some extra zip! If you have never had edamame, give them a try the next time you visit your favorite Japanese restaurant. You can find them in the appetizer section of the menu!

eggplant garden quadrant

We harvested the pods when the beans were noticeably bulging and felt firm when squeezed. When they are still developing, the beans feel spongy when squeezed. Soybeans are "bush beans," so they do not require a trellis or staking. They grow upright on a compact bush form.

soybeans ripening

From 20 plants, we harvested about 12 servings of edamame so far, and there are probably 6 more servings left to harvest - there are somewhere near 30 pods to a serving. Not all the beans were 100% ready for harvest, so we left them for a later time. I'm not sure if soybeans produce more pods once you harvest the beans, but I will find out soon enough. These plants are very drought tolerant and don't mind the heat one bit, so I will sow a second crop when I am sure this first one has finished.

harvesting soybeans

Another great thing about soybeans is that they freeze up beautifully. Sugar snap peas and green beans get flimsy when frozen, but not soybeans! Simply boil the beans for four minutes, then plunge them into an ice water bath for another four minutes, pat the pods dry, and store in freezer baggies, pod and all. When you are in the mood for some edamame, pull some out of the freezer and boil them for three minutes. They are just as good as the day they were picked! In fact, it is impossible to find fresh edamame (at least in Asheville). You can only buy them in the frozen food section!

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Rock Garden

I started this little rock garden down the side of the porch three years ago using rocks we found in the front yard while planting the roses. When we bought the house, this trench was about 1/3 full of gravel, so I decided to put the space to good use. It receives a full day's worth of sun, and stays really dry since it is shielded from rain by the overhang of the roof. Since I don't want to lug water to this bed every day, I chose plants that can handle extended periods of drought. The rock garden is really difficult to photograph since it is so long and slender. I like this photo though, because there is a Pug shadow in it! Guess who it is!

rock garden

The rock garden has undergone numerous evolutions over the past three years, and is currently home to mainly hens and chicks. "Hens and chicks" is the common name for small succulents in the sempervivum family. The large central plant is the "hen" and the small plants attached to the exterior of the hen are called "chicks." I like collecting different types of hens and chicks since there are so many varieties of species in various colors and textures. They are very hardy, reproduce pretty quickly and don't mind dry roots.

hens and chicks

I found this yellow specimen at the grocery store! What a place to find such a beauty... The "chicks" growing from the side of the "hen" can be easily popped off the main plant and transplanted. These plants are usually referred to as "offshoots" of the main plant.

hens and chicks

This variety is named "cobweb" due to the cobweb like wisps connecting the tips of the plant. Hens and chicks are not only useful in dry areas of the yard, but thrive in container plantings.

cobweb hens and chicks

These large green hens and chicks are from my grandpa's yard. He had a lot of hens and chicks and was so very proud of them. My grandmother offered me some of the plants when he passed away, and I was very happy to take them home to my own garden.

rock garden

You can find a variety of these plants at your local garden center, and sometimes Lowes and Home Depot, though they do not carry them regularly. Bluestone Perennials offers a nice selection of some unusual varieties that you may not find locally, and Park Seeds offers a variety pack of seeds for home growing. I have never grown these plants from seed, but it would be fun to try some time!

The plants infrequently produce strange flowers from the central "hen" during the summer. I have had only two hens produce such flowers, and although they were unusual and interesting, I didn't much care for their appearance.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

VooDoo Lily

I started this little garden at the edge of the yard last Fall as a place to hold plants given to me by friends. I think of it as my "friendship" garden, but it is quickly evolving into my "tropical" garden. There are red tiger lilies of some sort from my MIL's garden on the far left, voodoo lilies and elephant ears from another person's garden in the middle, cana lilies from Nate's house in the back of the bed and caladiums from Sam's Club (LOL - I guess Sam is a friend!).

voodoo lily planting

The shrub on the far right is a Japanese Snowball that I ordered from Greenwood Nursery over two years ago, and I'm probably going to replace it with either a Japanese Maple, Sambucu's Black Lace (though not from Wayside Gardens since their plants are not of consistent quality), or a deep red grass (I saw one I liked at Home Depot, but it was $25, and I'm not betting $25 on a plant from Home Depot). Aside from that Japanese Snowball, the rest of the plants are tropical, so in keeping with this tropical theme, the shrub has got to go. (Also, the blasted thing has never bloomed and always looks stressed out, so its time is up!)

The voodoo lily is the most exotic plant I have growing in any of my gardens. Although it is one of the easiest of the tropicals to grow, I still consider it to be pretty exotic for me! There are many types of voodoo lilies, and this one is specifically named sauromatum venosum. It produces a very odd looking flower in the Spring, which is followed by this really cool circlet of foliage. I think the foliage would make a good head dress for a fairy.

voodoo lily with caladiums

Here is a photo of the flower, although this is not from my garden. The flower smells like pooh. Seriously. See all those flies on it? The flies are attracted to the flower because of the nasty smell. Flies are gross. I'm not sure what purpose smelling like pooh serves in the wild world of horticulture, but I do know why I planted these flowers at the back of the yard and not right beside the deck!

When the first flower emerged from the ground, I was a bit startled by its appearance and wasn't quite sure what it was. The flower only lasted a couple days, then faded away. I was happy to see the foliage emerge a couple weeks later, as I had thought the flower was all there is to a voodoo lily! The stems have a really cool spotted leopard pattern as you can see in this photo. Quite exotic!

voo-doo lily

From my research, voodoo lily should not be hardy in my zone, but I transplanted these from a local garden near Asheville last Fall, and they have multiplied since that time, so I guess they are hardy after all! The elephant ears, tiger lilies and cana have proven quite hardy in Asheville also. I do know caladiums are not hardy in my zone, as I left some in the ground last year that did not re-emerge this year. You can either dig them in the Fall and store them for Spring planting or just treat them as annuals and replant them each year. I choose to replant since there is a high chance of the bulbs rotting during storage. I'm probably not storing them properly, but for $13 at Sam's Club for a bag of 50, it's worth not having to bother with them.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Favorite Views

The garden is constantly evolving. Flowers fade, new sprigs emerge, stalks are cut back in hopes of reblooming. Instead of focusing on the stressed areas in my garden; ie, the newly moved plants that are fatigued and yellowing, the bare spots left behind by exhausted bloomers, a crop of weeds not yet pulled, etc, I prefer to focus on the beautiful areas. It's amazing how gardeners can train their eye to hone in only on the attractive sites and completely disregard the ugly!

This is my favorite view in the perennial border. The yellow callas are showing off their fresh blooms in one unified display color, the veronica has not been completely widdled away by the bees but still sports a striking splash of purple, the coneflower is not yet ragged from the harsh summer sun and preying insects, the coreopsis is thick and lush and not hunched over from a fresh rain, and the baptisia is towering proudly over its fellow plants. I like to turn my chair in this direction and just bask in the perfection of this area!

perennial garden

I also love this little section of the fern garden. The maidenhair fern is spilling delicately over its rockwall container, and the white impatiens are gently snuggling up to offer a blanket of protection from predator slugs who like to strike in the night. So cozy!

maidenhair fern and impatiens

The squash look so happy and healthy that, although I know how easy it is to grow squash, I can't help but take pride in having grown these plants from seed. I like the way their foliage is reaching toward the sky, their broad leaves cupped as if trying to catch the rain.

bottom right garden quadrant

I love the constant cycle of change in the garden!

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Gooseneck Loosestrife

Gooseneck Loosestrife earned its common name from its elegant arches of white flowers thought to resemble a gooseneck. When planted en masse, the numerous plants appear as a gaggle of geese, with each "gooseneck" pointing in the same direction.

gooseneck loosestrife flower

Gooseneck Loosestrife is very easy to grow. It is hardy in zones 3-8, tolerates any soil type (including soil with poor drainage and heavy clay), and will thrive in a full sun or partial shade environment. The white blooms generally appear in mid-Summer and last through late-Summer, but my plants began blooming in late Spring. The plants will reach up to 3' in height, and the green foliage turns a lovely shade of bronze in the Winter. The plants do eventually die back in Winter but re-emerge in early Spring.

This plant is most effective in mass plantings, and since Gooseneck Loosestrife multiplies very rapidly, it is difficult to deter a mass planting from occurring whether planned or not. Since this plant reproduces primarily by running roots, it can be planted in a large pot that is plunged into the ground to help control its invasive tendencies. Moist soil is the catalyst for rapid spreading, so a drier soil should inhibit spreading a bit.

Since Gooseneck Loosestrife multiples so rapidly, it is the perfect perennial to transplant from a friend's garden in early Fall. This bed was created from twelve transplants I took from my MIL's garden last September. Each plant has produced at least three more plants in that time and will be ready to divide next Fall. It is fun to grow plants that can be shared with others!

hydrangeas and gooseneck loosestrife

You can tell by this photo of the original transplants that not only does this plant multiply quickly, but it also grows beautifully. When I dug these from my MIL's yard, I didn't bother with getting much dirt around the roots, but pretty much just yanked them from the ground bareroot. I transplanted them into this heavy clay area that has very poor drainage, but they persisted through the Winter and emerged happily in Spring.

hydrangea garden

We all have those areas of the yard that we want to fill in quickly and don't necessarily care to fuss with throughout the year. Gooseneck Loosestrife is an excellent choice for a low maintenance solution.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Baptisia (False Indigo)

Baptisia is the common name for a Spring-flowering family of perennial plants exhibiting lupine-like flowers atop dense blue-green foliage. A native to the US, baptisia is a favorite among lupine lovers since it is generally considered easier to grow than lupine. Sometimes referred to as false indigo for its fabric-dyeing qualities, baptisia is actually a member of the pea family, although its flowers are displayed at the end of sturdy branches instead of vines.

There are many types of baptisia available to the home gardener. Height variations range from 1'-7' and blooms are available in blue, white and yellow. Baptisia is hardy from zones 3-9 and blooms in late Spring or early Summer. The deep red seed pods provide Winter interest to the garden, but the plants do eventually die back to the ground in the coldest months of the season. Baptisia flourishes in full sun to partial shade, and is highly drought tolerant due to the long taproot that drills deep into the soil to collect water. The plants are non-intrusive, very long-lived and not susceptible to diseases or pests.

Baptisia makes a beautiful focal point for the Spring garden and its dense foliage provides a lovely filler for the Summer garden. Although its long tree-like taproot enables great drought tolerance, it also makes the plant resentful to transplanting, so once established, this plant should not be disturbed.

I planted three blue baptisia late last Spring. As you can see from this photo, the largest of the three plants was about 12" in height. I wanted these shrub-like plants to help hide the garden hose eyesore, and I expected it to take a couple years for these notoriously slow-starters to reach an adequate height.


The plants died back in the Winter, which startled me a bit, and I was relieved when they starting emerging from the cool Spring soil. The plants grew quickly and the largest is now 4' in height and the hose is completely hidden. You can see baptisia coupled with White Swan coneflower and veronica in this photo.

baptisia in the perennial garden

I am disappointed to report that the plants did not bloom this year, but I am pleased with their growth rate. These plants are in a mostly shaded area but still have great color and are growing well. The tallest plant receives the most sun, because it is tall enough to reach through the shade and soak in the warm Summer rays throughout the day. I did have to support the tallest plant to keep the stalks from tipping, but I expect it will grow stronger in the future and not require this support. I highly recommend this plant for the back or middle of the border, particularly in dry areas that may have proven to provide sub-prime conditions for other plants.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Medley of Squash

We have sixteen squash plants growing in the garden. Sixteen is a serious number of squash! I like BIG harvests, and nothing provides a more satisfying (and early) harvest than squash.

bottom right garden quadrant

We ordered the squash collection from Park's Seeds. This collection includes four types; Park's Crookneck Improved, Enterprise, Sable Beauty, and Italiano Largo. The yellow squash (Enterprise and Crookneck) have been the first to ripen, but the two zucchini are starting to catch up.

crookneck, straightneck, italian large and sable beauty squash

The Enterprise squash ripen quickly to a creamy yellow color. All the fruit I have harvested has been uniform in size and shape, and have very small flower scars. These are beautiful vegetables with a lovely thin skin.

straightneck squash

The Crookneck squash ripen very quickly and must be harvested at their prime; otherwise the skin will become dark yellow and begin to toughen. The fruit of these plants becomes mature at various sizes, so don't be timid when harvesting. You will end up with fruit varying in size from tiny to medium, but they all have equally wonderful flavor!

crookneck squash

This is the first Sable Beauty harvested, and we have not yet sampled it. Its exterior certainly lives up to its name, and its flesh is said to be creamy and bold. We'll see later this week if that is true :)

sable beauty squash

These Italian Largo are the type of zucchini I remember from my childhood - big! We never ate them as a vegetable dish though, but my Mom used them to make zucchini bread. It wasn't until I moved to the South that I learned squash were for eating at dinner! Although these squash are huge, they still have a great flavor. A lot of squash lose their flavor as they get bigger, but we ate one of these big boys last week sauteed with butter and onions, and it was tender and sweet. The skin is tougher than the other three varieties, but the flavor is great!

italian largo squash

We were able to fit sixteen plants into this 9' x 9' area along with four green peppers and a row of bush-type green beans. The plants are all very healthy, and I have not noticed any serious pest infestations. You need to continue to harvest the fruit regularly so the plants will continue to produce; otherwise, they will die back. Once these plants have exhausted their resources, I plan to sow a second crop!

We enjoy squash prepared in many ways; cut width-wise and sauteed with onions and butter and served as a side dish, cut long-wise and grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper, cubed and sauteed with onions and butter and served in pasta, and cubed and made into a casserole. We are investigating other new and interesting ways to prepare squash since we are going to have so many!

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D4 Drought

Although it has rained so much in the past seven days that I have not needed to water the garden at all, we are now in a D4 drought - the worst possible drought conditions for North Carolina. This means I cannot spray irrigate the garden at all and we are not allowed to wash cars ever. STOOPID. Yes, I misspelled that word on purpose.

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