Now What?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010


Big Max pumpkin, 62 pounds.

Tomatoes boldly step where peas fear to tread

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Summer, which came unusually early this year, represents a shifting of gears in the vegetable garden. The delicate tastes of spring greens are replaced by the more robust impact of hot weather reds and yellows. Both through more carefully planning and the accidents of weather, this year’s garden managed to simultaneously provide lettuce and tomatoes.  I composted the last of the lettuce and spinach this week.

Although my wall of peas continued to flourish, June saw a significant reduction in sweetness and flavor. I pulled them down before they’d completely finished flowering, and planted Waltham Butternut and Green Striped Cushaw winter squash in their place.  Those have sprouted, and I’ll put up a couple trellis for them tomorrow.

I’ve been surprised by how some plants have flourished, while others have struggled. Before summer had even started, it had become clear that I’d ended up with a tomato thicket.  On the left of Kirk, you see the tomatoes I planted in early April, 2 weeks earlier than normal. The set of tomatoes on the right side of the photo were also started from seed in early March, but I planted them 2 weeks later.

The Early Girl, which Elizabeth bought for me at Merrifield, has done phenomenally well, with the first tomato arriving during the 2nd week of June. At this point, its providing a couple tasty fruit every day. Glacier has started fruiting, but I don’t think they have much taste. Both Dr Carolyn’s have started providing a small but steady supply of delicate yellow cherries with an almost lemony overtone.  The Brandywine on the left should have had ripe fruit by now, but they all suffer from some sort of end rot. The other Brandywine looks to be in good shape, but its 2 weeks later, so its hard to tell. Radiator Charley is still a week or two from ripeness, and the two Old Germans have pretty flowers, but I’m not sure if they’ve even set fruit, yet.   Its been so hot lately that all of them stopped setting fruit, which doesn’t usually happen until a couple months later in the season.

I’ve got 2 kinds of lima one of which is well over the top of the trellis, with the more delicate Willow Leaf tentatively topping it a couple days ago.  A hybrid bush lima and a bush green bean are both doing well now, after withstanding a couple weeks of grazing.  The Cornfield green beans have turned into a leguminous green wall, but unlike the Christmas limas, show no signs of flowering.

I’m mostly finished with my first attempt at potatoes, an exercise that was mostly successful.   Digging up taters is like finding Easter eggs, a form of mystery lacking with most other vegetables.  I plan on starting a fall crop next month, but the left over seed potatoes, moldering in a cool dark corner of the basement, are looking tired.  Some of the potato tubers I dug this week were trying to start new plants, so I just stuck them back into the ground, and maybe they’ll do better than the well-sprouted seed potatoes I’ve been saving downstairs for the second planting.

I’ve had mostly positive experiences so far with the squash family.  We’ve picked about 6 pounds of yellow crookneck, a favorite courgette of ours that we never found in Europe.  The vine borers have been out in force, though, and I’ve had to pull out several squash plants, and perform surgery on some of my pumpkins.  Pumpkin patch #1, taking over the former mulch pile in a clearing where a pine tree was downed, is mostly thriving, in spite of the occasional groundhog attack and some insects.  Big max has set several of its distinctively pale and ugly fruit, and one of the others, I’m not sure if it’s Jack O’Lantern or the pie pumpkin, has multiple dark green orbs that are approaching the size of bowling balls.  Patch #2, a pair of Big Maxes, is struggling, and has only set one pathetic little pumpkin. I try to remain organic, but a neighbor gave me a bottle of some sort of insecticide powder that I’ve liberally sprayed all over the base of the pumpkins.

This week I planted some more corn, fall cabbage, and, because you can never have too much zucchini, another yellow crookneck. I’m not confident that the 3 remaining plants, 1 of which has had borer removal surgery, will make it through the summer. Making up for 10 years lost time in my garden, I’ve sifted a dozen bushels of composted manure into the garden.

Apparently to no purpose, I had spread about $25 worth of imported Swedish pigs blood around my garden in the form of pellets. To be fair to the manufacturer, while they did claim to repel mice and moose (elk), the package said nothing about the American member of the Marmot family.  Hopefully, the cucurbitae and pulses will no longer have anything to fear, with today’s capture of Little Chuck in the charitably named Havahart trap.  I can’t imagine why he even wandered into the thing.  I don’t even remember when I last baited it with pear slices and peanut butter. After some debate over the most discrete way to euthanize our little weather forecaster, Elizabeth volunteered to treat him to a $25 permanent visit  to the pound, leaving with the smelly thing chattering away in the back of my Subaru.

Virginia summer compared to Virginia Water

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

In 2001, we moved from Vienna, Virginia to Vienna, Austria, followed in September by a move to Virginia Water, England. The result has been perpetually confused mail, and a variety of summertime experiences.

As I sit here in 91 degree weather, thankful that the humidity is only about 60% (both expected to rise this week), I can’t help missing the incredibly mild and pleasant English summers. Of course, if you want to lie down on the hammock some Saturday afternoon, reading a novel, you need a blanket.

The insects in America are very different from the ones in England. While I complain about the squash vine borers sabotaging my cucurbits, I really enjoy the fireflies. Elizabeth and I have sat on the back deck, watching the twinkling twilight show. The other American bug I’m glad to see again, and this is a taste that she does not share with me, is the cicada. I love the sound of the cicadas up in the trees, whirring away in unison, and then suddenly going silent. The evening sound of crickets is another one that feels like home to me.

Squashed squash

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Elizabeth and I are both partial to yellow crookneck squash, something we didn’t see much of in England. I know that squash plants have a tap root, and are fussy about being transplanted, but I thought I’d give it a go, starting 4 pots during the first week of March.

I planted two plants in early April, a couple of weeks before the last Spring frost date (the last spring frost this year was Feb or very early March).  Thinking it’d discourage vine borers, I draped spun-bonded polyester over both of them.  They just didn’t seem to thrive under there, and after a couple of weeks, the first plant fell over, with a strange sort of weak stem that didn’t look anything like vine borers (which wouldn’t have been active enough to kill a plant in April).

I planted some more seeds where the first plant had been, and took the Reemay off the other one.  The other plant seemed to be doing pretty well, but there was always something funny about the stem. It had funny little gray things living on it, like slug nymphs or something, and there were so many sow beetles (wood lice) that I figured something must be rotten.

The remaining squash plant seemed to have come through last week’s hail storm in pretty good shape ($3000 to repair my Subaru), but we had another storm Friday night. As the overnight guests slowly reappeared after Elizabeth’s party, I wandered out to the garden with a cup of coffee to discover a single casualty from this much milder storm. The photo above shows the stem where it broke right at the ground level. The scarring indicates that there was very little intact stem at the time, which explains why the fruit have been so small.

Cut down in the prime of life, its going to be awhile before we see a squash big enough to saute.

At this point, we’ve had a lot of lettuce, and we’ve snacked on pod peas several times. There’s a veritable wall of traditional English garden peas that should be ready soon, and my taters are in flower. Early Girl is covered with tomatoes, one of which looks like it should start coloring up any day now.  Two different varieties of corn are coming up, and I need to start trellising my lima beans this week.

Global warming in the spring garden

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Spring came early this year, it has been uncharacteristically hot, we are 3 inches below our normal rainfall, and now I’m wishing that I’d taken advantage of global warming a couple weeks earlier than I did.

I did plant some tomatoes a couple of weeks before what is normally considered the last Spring frost date. Most of my tomatoes are open pollinated heritage varieties, started from seed during the first week of March.  I’ve got one hybrid, an Early Girl that Elizabeth bought me in the nursery, which I aggressively planted in early April. Close to 3′ tall, she started setting fruit last week, with the first tomato about 1.5″ in diameter right now.

She’s flanked by the first of 4 of the ones I started from seed.  Under black paper ‘mulch’ and surrounded by 5′ cages, they are thriving in this hot and sunny spring, and Old German should start blooming any day now.

A pair of ground cherries can be seen on the left. I started them at the same time as the tomatoes, and their growth has been painfully slow.  I don’t know how big they will eventually get, but I’m assuming they will not become as big as a tomato, even though they are related.

Two weeks ago, which was two weeks after planting the first group of tomatoes, I decided that all danger of frost was past, and the second group of heritage tomatoes went in.  Also planted under black paper, they are currently only about half the size of the first group.  The plant density is a little bit on the high side, but with a plot of potatoes going in this year, I didn’t want to complicate rotation over the next couple of years by sprinkling nightshades all over the garden.  I also didn’t want to throw anything away, so I planted all of my indoor starts, which was 2 of everything but one of the Mortgage Lifters, which suffered an unfortunate re-potting accident.

This is the first time I’ve tried potatoes, but after what seemed like a very slow start, the 4×4 plot in the back is filling up nicely with 4 different varieties.

The plot I started the first week of March is doing well.  I’ve been snacking on 2 different kinds of radish for a couple of weeks.

The sugar snap peas have been blooming for a couple days, and I snacked on a couple of early pods yesterday.  I decided a couple of days ago to start harvesting lettuce, and now it is looking like it might bolt before I can finish it.


The adjacent plot has some arugula that has been doing great, but that hardy green is flanked by two pathetically feeble attempts to grow lambs lettuce. Rapunzel, let down your roots! Incredibly slow to germinate, neither the Vit nor Green Jade are anything to brag about.  The peas in the back are traditional English garden peas, which look healthy enough, but haven’t started to bloom yet, and I’m concerned about the heat.

My third 4×4 of greens is doing even worse.  It has been 5 weeks since I planted the first 8-10 squares, and so far, my germination rate is awful.  Unlike the early March plot above, I’d very carefully fluffed up and composted this one.  The chicken wire was in place from the beginning, keeping out the birds, and I put a cardboard shield across the top whenever it stormed.  I’ve regularly hand-watered this lovely little plot to keep the seeds moist, and there is precious little to show for all that attention. So much for trying to keep a fresh supply of lettuce throughout the Spring.  I think I’ll need to shade these plants soon.

I started 4 squash plants at the same time as my tomatoes. I know that squash don’t always transplant well, but I wanted to get a jump on the season with some of the yellow squash that Elizabeth and I prefer over green zukes.  I put two plants out at the same time as the first set of  tomatoes, and put Reemay over the top to keep the borers away.  I’m not sure they liked being under spunbonded poly, and the other plant died of stem failure (NOT borer damage).  This plant had some damage to the stem also, but seems to be doing much better, and has visibly grown in the 2 days since I took this picture. Today it has a very distinct female bud and a male bud that might bloom tomorrow.