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Wordless Wednesday Sunset, 2014

Sunset in central PA


Gloom and Bloom Day Autumn, 2014


Why are there cosmos in my kitchen garden? Someone once told me that cosmos growing with sweet corn keep away corn ear worms. I still don’t know whether it works, but I’ve yet to find ear worms in my corn. This year, the corn didn’t do well, but the cosmos plants are about ten feet tall and bursting with blossoms.

There had been a power outage by the time I woke up this morning. It was raining. For a few minutes during the day, the rain stopped, but when I had a chance to get out to the garden and make photos, I got wet.

Lighting was horrible… my super-sophisticated camera struggles in low light, and cloud cover certainly kept the light low. Still, some nice things happened in the rain. Garden Bloggers Bloom Day corresponds this month with our average first frost date so it’s great to find blossoms pretty much everywhere in my kitchen garden. Photos tell the story.

Pepper blossom

My pepper plants have done well. I’ve canned a lot of pepper relish, chili sauce, and salsa. Also, we’ve eaten peppers throughout the summer. It’s sad to see blossoms and buds on virtually every plant and know that they all will be frozen off before they can produce fruit.

Tomato blossom

This may be the most raggedy tomato blossom ever to grace my blog. It is absolutely the last tomato blossom of the season. Amazingly, late blight had arrived by mid summer, but unseasonably cool, dry weather somehow held it in check. I harvested lots and lots of tomatoes before the blight came back to life and reduced my plants to blackened, shriveled masses. There’s almost nothing left.

Zucchini blossom

The zucchini seeds I planted in early spring got smothered by leaf mulch that wouldn’t hold its position around young sprouts. So, I planted more zucchini seeds and they grew up into enormous, sprawling winter squash plants. Apparently, I mixed up my seed packets. So, in late summer, I made a final attempt to rear zucchini plants. They have done well, and I’ve already harvested enough zukes to make me happy… but there are several more ready or on their way. Is that enough? Not for zucchini plants! This flower really wanted to open today, but realized its load of pollen would go to waste; I expect it to be in full bloom tomorrow.

Neck Pumpkin blossom

My winter squash—exclusively neck pumpkin this year—has been prolific. From two hills there must be close to a dozen fruits, and I have not been diligent about hand-pollinating. I’ve harvested a few, and more are ready, but I’m keeping special eye on a monster that hangs from the trellis and rests on the ground. When I stand next to it, the top of the squash reaches about six inches above my knee. That’s about 30 inches of squash and I’m guessing it’ll weigh in close to 20 pounds. I’ll post about it when I harvest in the next week or so. The photo shows one of about four winter squash blossoms that opened today.

Pea blossom in the rain

I planted pea seeds close to August 15th, figuring 65 days to maturity would bring them home just about today. They started blooming only two days ago, so I’m hoping for two or three weeks of seasonably warm weather; perhaps I’ll get a small harvest before snow falls.

Marjoram in bloom

Marjoram has been my favorite plant in this year’s kitchen garden. It has been in bloom continually since mid July… that’s three months of color and food for pollinators. I’m seriously considering propagating my marjoram to plant a larger corner of the yard.

Hydrangea blossoms

In the winter of 2012-2013, critters chewed my recently-planted hydrangeas back to the soil. In 2013, the plants bounced back only to be eaten to the ground in winter of 2013-2014. Despite the abuse the plants have gotten, one managed to put out a single cluster of blossoms very late in the season. I think they’re gorgeous and would love to see the plants grow up so they can spew flower clusters everywhere. No, hydrangeas have nothing to do with kitchen gardening. This winter, I’m putting a fence around them.

Gaillardia blossom

When I look over the fence from inside my kitchen garden, I can see an ornamental bed my wife has managed for many years. This was her breakout year: new perennials got established quickly, and annuals exploded, putting on quite a show. For the first time in many attempts, gaillardia looks permanent. I hope it survives the winter.


Blond Zucchini?

Green Zucchini

As long as I’ve known zucchini, it has been a dark green squash like the young one in this photo.

To some kitchen gardeners, the existence of blond zucchini is no surprise (though calling it “blond” is probably not normal). In my experience, whether store-bought or homegrown, zucchini is a dark-green squash. It never occurred to me there might be other shades of zuke, and I really didn’t care.

Until this summer.

You see, on one of five zucchini plants growing from commercially-package seeds, a squash developed that is very light, creamy green rather than zuke green. Of course, while writing this, I can’t find the seed packet. It was a late-season purchase to fill a hole in my vegetable production; I planted zukes in August because they grow and mature so quickly.

I do know it was a generic zucchini seed package. It named the variety and mentioned nothing about mixed colors. So… either the plants from which the seeds were harvested were open-pollinated and grew next to blond zucchini OR the seed that produced my blond zucchini experienced a random mutation.

My zucchini experiment

What does an overenthusiastic gardener do when faced with an oddity such as a zucchini of a different color? This gardener lets the stupid squash mature so the seeds become viable. I’ve several questions:

  1. Is blondness a dominant or a recessive trait? In other words, in a cross between a plant to produces dark green fruits and one that produces blond fruits, will there be more blond offspring or dark green offspring?
  2. Whatever color is dominant, can I coax more blond zucchini from this family line? You see, I hand-pollinated the flower from which the blond squash emerged. I used a male flower from a plant that produces dark green zukes. I didn’t know I was pollinating a blond zucchini plant (the leaves and stems look identical).
  3. If I can produce further blond zucchini plants, can I isolate seeds that will always produce ONLY blond zucchini? If so, I’ll have a unique variety of zucchini developed right here in my own garden.

Blond Zucchini

One of my zucchini plants produced a blond fruit! Granted, it’s hiding under leaf stems, but you can clearly see its color is creamy light green rather than the mottled dark green of my other zucchinis. I’m going to try to create a line of blond zucchinis. This is going to be fun.

To answer these questions, I’ll harvest the zuke when frost is inevitable. It should be pretty mature by then. I’ll collect seeds and start some indoors very early in the spring. Those should mature quickly enough that I can harvest seeds from the spring crop to start a mid-summer crop; with a decent growing season I can get two successive zucchini plantings in a season.

The first planting will be of seeds from only this zucchini. I’ll try to pollinate each plant using its own flowers. If that’s not possible, I’ll be cross pollinating from plants that may carry the blond gene so I’ll have a decent chance of seeding more blond squashes. Perhaps by the end of the 2017 growing season I’ll have a reliably blond line of zucchini descended from the freak in this year’s zucchini patch.

What fun! (And, my wife rolls her eyes.)


You Can Grow That!

Horseradish roots

After 17 months in my refrigerator, the horseradish roots my brother gave me looked pretty happy. Those are some seriously healthy-looking green leaves… despite that they’ve seen almost no light for more than a year.

How about a little horseradish with your steak? Once a year at Christmas, we have beef fondue with a collection of homemade steak sauces. At least two of those sauces include horseradish… horseradish from a jar. But that’s going to change.

In March of 2013, my brother gave me to horseradish roots dug from his garden. I was busy and so I left the roots wrapped in plastic in my refrigerator. I remained busy. Finally, on the last day of July of THIS year—fully 17 months after they went into the refrigerator—I took those horseradish roots out and planted them.

Horseradish character

I don’t have much experience with horseradish in the garden, but I recognize a character when I see one. Almost nothing survives more than a year in MY refrigerator. Granted, I’ve witnessed spontaneous generation in there, but not of anything I’d want to eat. Horseradish roots emerged unscathed from their long imprisonment.

Where to get horseradish

If your brother (or mine) isn’t going to give you horseradish roots, you might find some to plant in the produce section of a local grocery store. I’ve seen 12-inch pots of horseradish at garden centers selling for around $6.

From what I’ve read, you shouldn’t be shy about acquiring plants now, next week, next spring, or even mid-winter. If you can’t dig the soil to plant, you can probably keep a potted root going indoors. Or, cut off the leaves, dig the root, put it in an unsealed plastic bag, and keep it in your fridge until April.

I’d heard horseradish will spread in a garden, taking as much ground as you’ll allow. And, I’ve heard it’s very hard to dig up horseradish adequately to shut it down. Pushy plant.

So, I took precautions. Photos tell the story. You want fresh horseradish and plenty of extra to preserve for year-round steak sauce? You can grow that!

Containment ring for horseradish

I used an electric hack saw to cut the top and bottom thirds off a plastic 60 gallon food barrel. The middle third is an open-ended cylinder about 12 inches deep. Buried in the soil, it provides a root barrier for most plants. I hope it’s enough to control my horseradish.

Horseradish planting depth

After I set the two roots in soil, initial watering fully exposed the top of one of them. That naked root did nothing while the barely covered root put out new growth in just a few days. I covered over the exposed top and new growth came on almost immediately. From this I conclude: Plant roots so the tops are underground. (Please note this is not even vaguely scientific; it could be coincidence that the buried root grew when the other didn’t… )

Horseradish plants

From July 31 to September 10, this is what my horseradish did. I won’t harvest any this fall, and I’m going to let it alone in the spring. Had I planted it in April or May, I might try for a harvest, but two months hardly makes a full growing season. Christmas 2015? We’re having homegrown horseradish in our steak sauces.


Autumn in Lewisburg’s Community Garden


Cabbages provide some drama at the Lewisburg Community Garden. If this is on a private allotment, some Lewisburg family is going to be sick of cabbage-based side dishes.

I stopped in recently at Lewisburg’s community garden and saw some impressive sights. Most impressive of all: tomato plants that had late blight lesions over a month ago had somehow survived, put out new growth, and produced even more tomatoes! I guess cool days and an amazing lack of humidity made the blight fungus uncomfortable and kept it from reproducing.

The community garden seems in peak season. It’s producing beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cabbage, raspberries, and even salad greens. There are gorgeous displays of flowers scattered throughout, there’s a large expanse of sweet potato vines promising a healthy harvest of tubers, and there’s very little evidence any plants are in late season decline. Photos provide some sense of what’s up at the community garden.

Lettuce and pak choi

Lettuce shouldn’t look like this in Lewisburg in early autumn. To be so mature, these plants would have to have sprouted and grown during the hottest part of the year; that’s when lettuce is supposed to bolt and produce flowering stalks. Significantly below normal cool could have gladdened any lettuce farmer in central PA.


Chard is a gorgeous food plant that could easily have a place in ornamental beds. There’s plenty of healthy chard in Lewisburg’s community garden.

Everbearing raspberries

About half of the tillable land in the Lewisburg Community Garden grows food for a local food bank. There is a spectacular stand of raspberry brambles that is loaded with ripe berries. I hope to learn what variety these are so I can include them in my own bramble patch.

Blue morning glory

The renter of a particular allotment in Lewisburg’s community garden clearly prefers flowers over food. The space resembles a cutting garden with a huge variety of plants just showing off. A morning glory on the fence has the most deliciously blue blossoms. For all the show gardens and garden shows, this is one of the most beautiful garden elements I’ve seen all year.


How Now, Chow Chow?

Sweet Peppers

Every chow chow recipe I’ve seen includes sweet peppers. Maybe I’ll use some of these.

I keep hearing about chow chow and how desperately I need to try making some. Since learning of this concoction of veggies (and sometimes fruit) that sends many home canners into orbit, I’ve noticed several articles and blog posts about the stuff. I took particular notice recently when I saw jars of chow chow judged at a local county fair. It’s time to take chow chow seriously!

I can’t tell you what produce should be in chow chow. Every jar at the county fair had its own mix of vegetable chunks. Honestly, none made me want to pop a lid and dig in, so I’m taking it on faith when enthusiasts tell me chow chow is to die for. Maybe I’ll chop some together from what’s left in my garden. I found a recipe on another blog I might try: (Southern Chow Chow from the Garden). Or… do you have a chow chow recipe you’d like to recommend? If so, please leave a link in a comment below.


Garden Hero Spider

European garden spider

After careful research, I’m somewhat confident this photograph is of an European Garden Spider… though in Europe they probably call it a “Garden Spider.” I was very pleased this morning to see it had captured a brown marmorated stink bug. I hope it catches many more before cold weather chases all the bugs into hiding.

For two days I admired a symmetrical web and the large spider tending it prominently near the top of my climbing bean trellis. Today, my admiration grew: that spider was wrapping a stink bug in silk! I’m confident the spider’s victim was a brown marmorated stink bug because those are the only stink bugs I notice bumbling around my garden, yard, and living room.

After a short photo session, I was out and about in downtown Lewisburg. I walked past people loading things into a car and heard one of them exclaim, “I hate spiders.” I hoped she was using verbal shorthand to mean, “I hate how spiders look” or “I hate getting into spider webs” or “I hate being in states where there are venomous spiders.” That all makes some sense to me.

Unfortunately, I hear so many people flat out declare that when they see a spider, they kill it; I guess they actually hate spiders for spiders’ sakes. That’s a shame.

I don’t want to get into spider webs, and I’m uncomfortable having spiders walking on me or hanging in my face. I most definitely prefer living in a state where venomous spiders have never been found in the wild. Still, I manage to appreciate the work spiders do: helping to keep the overall insect population under control.

And when a spider takes down a brown marmorated stink bug? Doesn’t make me want to kiss it… or even pat it on the head. But that spider is my hero.


Throwback Thursday to Assateague in 2005

Camping on Assateague Island

Assateague Island, 2005 from left-to-right: My wife, my daughter (youngest child and now a freshman in college), my second son (a sophomore/junior in college), my first son (a med school bound college senior). Perhaps my wife and I will go camping by ourselves once or twice in coming years.

That’s my family in 2005 during a camping trip on Assateague Island. Assateague provides gorgeous beaches, a fine nature center, abundant wildlife, and activities led by park rangers and naturalists. One great draw is the population of wild horses; animals descended from those of early explorers—perhaps stranded after European ships foundered in a storm.

Nearly every vacation I remember from my childhood involved camping. My parents were outdoor enthusiasts, so camping suited them—and it helped that the cost of a rented campsite was way lower than the cost of hotel rooms for a family of six. I inflicted this vacation equals camping mentality on my wife and kids, and no one seemed to mind. (Except during rain storms. Camping in the rain gets old fast especially when the rain fails to respect boundaries and moves into the tent with you.)

I loved this particular trip to Assateague. On our first visit years earlier, a horse had stolen our lunch and caused some anxiety. We were smarter about “wild” horses the second time around.

It seems unlikely we’ll have the kids together for further camping trips. Makes me sad. Maybe there’ll be grandchildren some day and my wife and I can weasel in on some of their camping vacations.


Bloom Day in my Kitchen Garden, September 2014

Violet flower

I brought some kind of violet home after leading an all-day social media marketing workshop for Garden Writers Association. It started as a small pot and has expanded in two years to cover nearly three square feet. It puts up pretty little flowers in early spring and continue to do so until cold shuts it down.

It’s still summer, but it has felt like autumn since late spring! We’ve had, perhaps, 10 unpleasantly hot days this season with many, many cool nights. I’ve joked occasionally that my tomato plants were shivering and I wish I’d started fall crops in July—they wouldn’t have minded the few hot days August brought.

It feels as though frost is only days away but my garden doesn’t seem to care. Nearly everything I grow is flowering as if to produce another surge of produce. I captured much of it for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, and I included ornamental plants that only this year I started to think of as “my garden.” My wife and I have started to collaborate; I bring a lot of samples home from conferences and get all kinds of ideas from visiting show gardens. I also shop garden center clearance racks.

The only way I’ll ever eliminate my lawn is if we transform much of it to ornamental plantings. Photos provide some idea of what’s abloom in central Pennsylvania in mid September. Please enjoy our garden.

Bloom Day rose

I picked up more than 20 rose bushes three years ago at New England Grows, a conference in Boston. The roses were fresh from a greenhouse and I nursed them from February until April in my basement. Sadly, about half died, but the rest provide winter snacks for roving rodents or deer. Now, the roses are in bloom and we’ll need to fence them in to prevent the type of chomping that has happened two years in a row.

Second wave of gladiolus blossoms

Gladiolus bulbs were cheap this spring and I buried a dozen on the bank of my supposed rain garden. For a few weeks this summer they looked great, adding color where we’ve never had any. Just a few days ago, a second wave of blossoms appeared. I don’t know whether it’s the same plants sending up more flower stalks, or late-flowering bulbs that were mixed in with early-flowering bulbs.

Cosmos against the sky

I planted sweet corn in my kitchen garden, and cosmos with the corn because someone told me cosmos will prevent ear worms in the corn. The corn patch is more of a cosmos forest, but only one plant is in bloom so far. The corn has fared poorly; heavy rain killed my first planting, and the second struggled in moist soil. I need to add about 2 yards of soil to my garden to protect against wet summers.

Marjoram blossoms

Amazingly, my marjoram plants still have blossoms! The plants started blooming in July and have satisfied pollinators for more than two months. I first wrote about this marvel in a post titled Grow Marjoram! Seriously, Grow It!

Lavender in bloom

The lavender plant that died last winter is still in bloom. Died? Well… it didn’t come out of dormancy until about the first day of summer. All spring I thought it was dead but I hadn’t yet pulled it because there were plenty of more pressing gardening tasks (and I wasn’t home much this spring). I noticed new growth while I was weeding near the plant and was pleased to see the lavender come back fully during August.

Purple basil blossom

Still in the herb garden, I found a few basil blossoms holding on on a plant given to me by a farmer who let me shovel well-aged horse manure out of her pasture into my minivan. This variety of basil seeds aggressively and is likely to produce many offspring next season. Sadly, it isn’t as bright and basily as varieties I grew from seed… but it looks great in the garden.

Bean blossoms

My latest planting of beans included at least three varieties. All are bush beans and all are in full bloom. Climbing beans also are in bloom, but for their second wave of production, so blossoms are sparse. Still, unless frost hits early, I’ll add at least one more gallon of beans to the three gallons I’ve already frozen.

Winter squash blossom

Winter squash is going nuts in my garden. There must be a dozen fruits in my neck pumpkin patch, and three hybrid neck pumpkin & something monster squashes invading one of our ornamental beds. They’re all still flowering.

Cucumber blossom and baby

I planted cucumbers among the struggling corn plants in late July. There are many blossoms, but I’ve little hope of harvesting meaningful cucumbers before frost kills the vines. You can see a tiny cucumber baby behind the blossom. I hope it has time to grow up.

Purple jalapeno flower

The purple jalapeno seeds I collected last year turned out to have been cross-pollinated—I think with sweet Italian peppers. They produce white flowers with purple borders and the peppers emerge purple… but they’re giant compared to a typical jalapeno. I suspect this blossom will not produce fruit before frost kills it.

Black Russian tomato blossom

I haven’t counted, but there’s no question I’ve created even more than umpteen tomato blossom photos. This isn’t my best, but it shows the tenacity of a tomato plant. Blight has destroyed most of my tomato plants but still tomatoes hang on and ripen… and the plants continue to produce blossoms.


Vines? No, Bines! Who knew?

Hops bines climbing trellises behind the barn

I saw these trellised plants from the road beyond the barn repeatedly before I finally stopped and talked with the farmer at the Rhizome Republic. These are hops bines in upstate New York in early June. Apparently, a hops plant can grow six inches or more in a single day.

Hops taught me that climbing beans don’t grow on vines.

While working on my dad’s house in Ithaca, I repeatedly drove past The Rhizome Republic, a farm that specializes in growing hops. Fascinated by the layout, I stopped one day when I saw a woman in the yard. She was friendly, and encouraged me to return when her son would be home; the son manages the hops-farming operation.

Overview of hops farming

The Rhizome Republic is the brainchild of Josh Grazul. He’s building production gradually, financing expansion with profits from what he has already established. Grazul explained that there are dozens of breweries in New York State, but most buy hops from growers in the Pacific Northwest. Why not grow hops locally to supply the local brewers?

Hops bine with a clockwise twist

A young hops bine twists clockwise around its supporting trellis.

In early spring, a hops field seems no more than row upon row of sturdy wooden poles sticking out of the ground. The 18 foot poles support strong wire from which the hops farmer will hang heavy twine for the hops plants to climb.

Hops plants emerge from rhizomes that winter over happily in hardiness zones 3 through 8. To keep the plants from outgrowing a farm, the farmer cultivates between the rows, exposing rhizomes that formed in the preceding season. These the farmer can harvest and plant in new rows to expand the farm… or sell to other growers starting their own hops production.

In any case, hops plants reach for the sky and as they grow too heavy to support their own weight, the farmer hangs stings from the overhead wires and clips the plants to the stings. That’s all the encouragement the plants need. As they continue to grow, they wrap tightly around the strings and climb to the tops. Typically they top out before the season ends and they droop earthward, cascading back on themselves.

Hops: critical beer ingredient

The dried flower of a hops bine looks a bit like a small pine cone. Peel apart the scales, and you expose tiny beads of lupulin, a sticky nectar-like substance that holds the flavor so important to beer brewers.

Hops flowers look somewhat like little pine cones. A farmer may harvest entire plants when they’re covered in cones that have loosened up and started to dry out. In a small operation, the farmer hand picks the cones from the vines, but a larger operation may employ a machine to strip cones from the plants.

Pea tendrils grab a trellis for support

Peas grow on vines, not bines. Here, tendrils grip a trellis, supporting stems that are relatively brittle and prone to rotting if they lie on the ground.

After drying, a single hops cone is feathery-light and, perhaps, a bit sticky. The stickiness comes from lupulin which is a nectar-like compound that holds the distinctive hoppy flavor. A brewer can use the hops cones to make beer, but it’s more common for the hops farmer to pelletize the cones; pellets are easier to package and ship, and brewers are more accustomed to seeing hops in that form.

Wasn’t this story about bines?

Hops grow on bines. Bines, I was told at the farm, are just like vines except that they twist clockwise around whatever they’re climbing while vines twist counterclockwise. Being unfamiliar with the word, I looked it up and discovered that being a bine has nothing to do with the direction you twist as you grow. It’s better than that!

Winter squash tendrils support the vine

Many types of cucurbits are vines, not bines. This winter squash vine has a death grip on an azalea branch. The tendrils weren’t strong enough to support the squash as it developed. Once the fruit was the size of a basketball, the tendrils broke and the squash dragged the vine to the ground.

A VINE is a plant that uses tendrils to hold onto stuff and support its weight. A BINE is a plant that wraps its stem around stuff to support its weight. I had no idea there were words to distinguish these climbing strategies!

Some of the photos in this post provide glimpses of the Rhizome Republic hops farm. I hope you find them as remarkable as I did. Other photos in this post illustrate the difference between vines and bines. As a vegetable gardener, you probably grow both. I expect to add a few hops plants to my small kitchen garden and tip the balance further in the bine category.

Bean plants are bines, not vines

Climbing beans are bines, not vines. These have run about twelve feet up the string trellises and are seeking further support. Bean plants produce no tendrils (if they did they’d be vines); they hold on by wrapping tightly around more-or-less vertical supports.

Cucumber vine grips bining bean

When a vine meets a bine… I included this photo not because it illustrates anything useful, but because it shows a happy accident in my garden: a cucumber vine grabbed a young wax bean on a climbing bean plant—a bine. As the bean matured, the cucumber tendril held tight. This started well over a month ago and the plants are still interacting.


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