Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Exotic Weed

Last year when we found the gold mine of compost in our backyard, it brought with it a stubborn weed that I have been fighting for two seasons now.

Behold - Purslane.

purslane weed

At first I thought it was jade, so I let some of it grow among the corn. Its thick succulent leaves resemble jade, and I thought maybe someone tossed a dying Jade plant into the compost heap and a root cutting was somehow brought back to life.

But then it started multiplying, and I knew it couldn't be something good.

When it reappeared this year, I sensed some major trouble. My suspicions were confirmed the first time I hoed it all out of the garden, because every time I hoe it, it multiplies! It apparently thrives on torture!

A little research on purslane has revealed that the plant hails from India, where the leaves are eaten in salads, stir fry and soups. It is known to be high in vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids and is used as a medicinal herb for urinary tract conditions.

However interesting that might be, it's a weed to me, and I want it gone. My research has also revealed that you have to remove the entire plant - roots and all, to eradicate it. Otherwise, the roots actually produce seed and the plant continues to propagate! Ah! I guess I'll be down on my hands and knees scrubbing the soil of purslane weeds this weekend.

I showed this weed to my mother-in-law this weekend and she told me that in Honduras purslane is a house plant. When she was there this past April on a missions trip, one of the ladies that works at the orphanage tried to get her to take a purslane plant home with her to the US. Thankfully airport security confiscated it, or she would have a yard full of it now too!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Feeding the Tomatoes

Happy Summer! The garden is busy soaking up the sunshiny rays and enjoying the daily showers that have been granted us these past few weeks.

garden view early summer 2009

The tomatoes have made it past the worst of the early blight, probably since I am spraying them weekly with a fungicide and removing infected leaves daily. I have it down to a manageable state, and for that I am thankful. Although rain is great for their roots, it's awful for blight, so when I do have to water, I lug the watering can up to the garden to keep water from splashing onto their leaves. No more overhead watering for me, which is a bummer, because I love listening to the rhythmic patter of the sprinkler in the morning. The forecast is sunny and dry this week, so I'll be building up some arm muscles with all that water lugging.

tomato garden bed

I love the fuzzy beginnings of tomatoes.

tomato flowers

And those cute little green babies. They seem to take forever to ripen, but once they start, we'll be full up on tomatoes for the rest of the Summer!

early tomatoes

When it comes to feeding tomatoes, I like to use two organic products; a granular fertilizer produced by Garden Tone, and a liquid fish fertilizer. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, and I have found that this combination works to keep them happy and vigorous. I prefer organic fertilizers, because not only are they all-natural, but they contain micronutrients and trace elements not found in their chemical counterparts.

The Garden Tone fertilizer is readily available at stores like Lowe's and is quite affordable for being organic. I sprinkle 1/3 cup around each tomato once a month and gently work it into the soil with a garden claw. I always water the plants immediately after fertilizing so the nutrients soak into the soil. This is a mild fertilizer, so don't worry about burning the plants.

You might have to search a little harder locally to find fish fertilizer. I get mine from a "Mom and Pop" seed store out in "the country." Buy it by the gallon, and don't get it from a specialty plant store, or you're going to overpay. Jesse Israel is charging $12 for a quart, whereas I can get a gallon for $20 at the seed store. That gallon will easily last me the entire growing season. Fish fertilizer is pretty darn stinky, but as you use it, the smell becomes endearing. Well, it has for me at least, but I like the smell of manure too, so maybe I'm weird in that regard. Norman (our Pug) goes crazy for fish fertilizer and tries to lick the bottle whenever I am using it. I guess he likes stinky things too! I use it every three weeks at a rate of about 1/4 cup to two gallons of water. This feeds about eight plants, depending on how generous I am feeling that day.

I will also crush up egg shells as we use up all the eggs in a carton and work them gently into the soil around the tomatoes, preferably when the plants are just starting to set fruit. Egg shells provide calcium to the soil, which prevents blossom end rot. The Garden Tone fertilizer contains calcium, but I like to give the plants a little extra boost.

It's not all that much work - just two feedings per month. I wish the weeds were as easy to deal with!

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's Not Tacky - It's European

I created this potted flower arrangement with purples, yellow and reds. I wasn't so pleased with my decision to combine red and purple. It seemed rather tacky to me.

planter with purple yellow and red

But then my friend Hillary, who has been to Europe, informed me that it is a very "European" inspired arrangement. That's cool, right? I like Europe.

petunias, verbana and lantana

Regardless of my feelings for this grouping, I love this lantana. It opens orange and yellow.

red orange and yellow lantana

And matures to red.

red lantana

Pretty cool. The foliage of lantana has a pleasant citrus scent. I just love it, and so do butterflies!

Although petunias are not my favorite flower, they do provide lush vibrant color all summer when dead-headed regularly. The foliage is oddly sticky and gives off a light sweet scent. To dead-head petunias, you need to pinch off the entire flower head, not just the flower portion. If you don't dead-head annuals, they won't bloom as vigorously, because they think they have accomplished their task of reproducing. Removing the seed pod causes them to try to produce more seeds; ie, flowers.

petunias and verbana

Strawflower is great for potted arrangements, because it is drought tolerant. The paper-like flowers close at night and during rain and persist for many weeks without the requirement for dead-heading.

petunias and strawflower

So that's my European arrangement! It was totally intentional :)

Labels: ,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bloomin' Hydrangeas!

I'm so excited that the Hydrangeas I planted two years ago are finally blooming. I was reckless in planting them in afternoon sun, but that's where I wanted them to be, so that's where they went.

When the gooseneck loosestrife exploded this Spring and hid the plants almost completely, I was worried that they would get crowded out and suffocate.

loosestrife, hydrangeas and hollyhook

As it turns out, the hydrangeas love the shade that the loosestrife have provided and are putting on a lovely show in return.

The Penny Mac surprised me with beautiful blue poms.

penny mac hyndrangea in bloom

The Woodlander and Nikko Blue are just starting to bud out, but I will get photos as soon as the flowers open more.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 12, 2009

Flea Beetles

The flea beetles started early this year, attacking my eggplant seedlings while they were still being hardened off in the seedling tray. Those buggers were impatient this Spring!

The common signs of flea beetles are pin-size holes on the leaves of plants. The bugs themselves are tiny little black specks that could be mistaken for dirt on the leaves. They love the young tender leaves that are just emerging from the plants, and will mow them down in a day if left to their business.

flea beetles

I had to use Sevin on them again this year.

I don't feel so bad about it this year though, as I have been quite fortunate to have avoided pest issues with my other crops. I was in the Tractor Supply Store the other day purchasing a fungicide for the tomatoes when an older gentleman came in asking for Sevin dust. He wanted a big bag of it too. He was wearing office attire, so I knew he wasn't a career farmer, so I asked him what he was planning to nuke with a big bag of Sevin. He told me that he had a large garden and that it was being eaten up by a myriad of insects. His lettuce had been mostly devoured and the radish crop was lost entirely. The bugs were moving in on his warm weather crops and he wanted to save them. I told him of my woes with flea beetles and eggplant and he laughed, saying that eggplant were insect attractors, and if anything was going to get infested, it would be those plants! I felt better knowing that my options were limited with the eggplant and that Sevin was maybe OK in this instance.

I wonder how organic farmers grow eggplant - maybe they use grow tents. That might be a bit excessive for 12 plants in my case, so I guess I'll just keep compromising my principles and spray the buggers down.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Vole Hole

I planted this rock garden three years ago and have been fighting with a vole over it ever since. The rock garden is really more attractive than it looks in this photo - it's quite unphotogenic.

norman with rock garden

See the little holes the vole likes to make in the soil.

vole hole

I wouldn't mind a little hole here and there, but he also eats the roots of my plants and tears the site to pieces. What does he do with all that soil? I have to replace 1/3 of it twice a year! Does he eat it? What a weird little critter.

vole hole

I have tried vole repellent spray and granules, but neither have had any affect on his digging. If you've got a vole repellent suggestion that doesn't involve a cat, please do share. I actually had the opportunity to kill this little fellow one time, but he is just so darn cute I couldn't bring myself to do it. I don't mind him chilling in the yard, but he needs to work on his manners!

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Some Notes on Tomatoes

After sowing the second round of corn to ensure a staggered harvest, the garden is finally filled to the brim.

garden view early June 2009

Gardening is considered a therapeutic hobby, but some of the challenges I faced with the tomatoes this year caused a little more stress than stress relief!

I always grow my tomatoes, eggplant and peppers from seed. This year I bought a seedling heat mat to speed up and increase germination rates and decided to install artificial overhead lighting to keep the tomatoes from getting leggy from leaning toward the window. When you sow seedlings indoors, the seed tray should be subjected to minimal light until the seedlings have broken through the soil. The tomatoes sprung up so quickly out of their warm peat pods that they were leggy from the start, stretching to reach the little bit of light provided from a nearby window while their eggplant and pepper counterparts remained asleep in their seed husks.

So I struggled with the tomatoes to strengthen their thin leggy stems for about 10 weeks. As it turns out, tomatoes aren't big fans of artificial light, especially the Marcellino, most of which were so pathetic looking that I couldn't possibly plant them in the garden. Adding to my frustrations, my attempts at moving the tomatoes around to find the optimal sun spot in the plant room resulted in the seedlings getting all mixed up, leaving me with no clue who was Marcellino and who was Costuloto. I had 10 of each and 16 spots in the garden, so the worst case scenario would end up with only 6 Marcellino in the garden and leave me with less salsa than planned. (I ended up with 7 Marcellino and 9 Costuloto - not bad!)

I did know definitively that a couple of the seedlings were Marcellino and I wanted to be sure to plant those in the garden. In my haste, I accidentally snipped one off in his peat pod, so I had to plunge his tiny little stem into the soil with no roots, hoping it would take hold. It did, but it's now my little runt. Grow little guy! Grow!

runt tomato plant

I decided to try cages this year since staking heirlooms like Costuloto proved a big hassle last year. I planned to stake the Marcellino (keeping them trained to one main stem) and cage the heirlooms since they are impossible to train to one main stem.

By training tomatoes to one main stem, the plant spends less energy producing leafy green branches and more time producing fruit. You get taller plants that are easier to keep staked since you don't have a lot of sprawling branches. My Marcellino generally grow to about 7' using this method.

training tomatoes to one stem

It takes a bit of persistence, but is otherwise simple. Just pinch off the extra branch that sprouts up between the main stem and a side branch. You have to keep on top of this chore though, as those little extraneous branches will keep growing back all season long!

training tomatoes to one stem

Unfortunately, the side shoots of three of the Marcellino got away from me while I was on vacation and now it is too late to keep them trained to one main stem, so I ended up caging them too. I guess we'll see if a Marcellino produces more fruit with one main stem or being treated like an heirloom. Let's not call it a mistake, but an experiment!

After finally getting all those little buggers healthy enough to plant and caging and staking them properly, I was faced with challenge number 3 - early blight.

Two years ago I grew 16 beautiful tomato plants with no sign of any sort of blight or yellowing of leaves. No problems with pests - nothing. They were just gorgeous. Last year the tomatoes were hit with tomato leaf roll, early blight and possibly some form of wilt. I chalked it up to not having rotated the planting site. Naughty gardener!

But this year has started off with signs of early blight already - black spots on the lower leaves caused by a fungus that is spread through air and soil.

early blight on tomatoes

Here are the steps to take to protect against early blight:
  • Always rotate crops from one year to the next
  • Avoid overhead watering - I know - it's how God waters, but for some reason, we're not supposed to water like that
  • Keep the lower branches of the plant pinched back to prevent soil from splashing up onto the plant during rainy weather
  • Use a fungicide early and often throughout the growing season
  • Pinch off any branches that have been affected by early blight - they won't get better and will only spread the fungus to neighboring branches
I recommend purchasing the fungicide spray in concentrate form and mixing it up yourself. I used one bottle on 8 plants last night, and once the plants get even more mature, that rate drops to one bottle per every 4 plants, which can get pricey!

The tomatoes may have caused me a bit of heartburn this year, but the crop is worth it. There is nothing as satisfying to a home gardener as a sweet juicy tomato fresh from the garden. I can't wait for July!

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 01, 2009

Perennials in Bloom

The perennials have burst into bloom, despite the rain's valiant attempt to wash them out.

The coreopsis, verbana and salvia are giving a lovely show, while the daisies, coneflower, and asiatic lilies are preparing to debut their talents very soon.

last year's new perennial bed

Despite my efforts to rip it all out by the roots earlier this spring, the evening primrose is thicker and more lush than ever and is planning a serious explosion of delicate pink flowers in the next week. Don't plant evening primrose if you don't want it everywhere. It's serious about propagation and is uncontrollable, but it fills in nicely between other perennials to give that full "english cottage garden" look.

evening primrose in perennial bed

A couple of early bloomers have already began to integrate with the yellows and purples of the existing blooms.

sunrise coreopsis and evening primrose in the perennial bed

I planted this perennial bed last spring from seedlings I had sown indoors mid-winter. The salvia and verbana did not return this spring, so I had to purchase new plants from the store. I hadn't anticipated them petering out, or I would have sown replacements this winter. The coreopsis, evening primrose, shasta daisies and coneflower have done very well from seed and are highly recommended for this area.

Labels: , , ,