Posts Tagged ‘peppers’
Bean blossoms look far too complicated; I’m glad bees can figure them out. The green bush beans I planted this year have pink blossoms; a nice change from the white bean blossoms of past years. In the bottom-right of the photo, you can see a bean starting to develop.
Garden Bloggers Bloom Day originates from Carol Michel’s blog, May Dreams Gardens. She wants to see blossoms all year long, and the garden blogging community rallies: post blossoms on your blog, then link to it from her blog. It’s simple, and it helps other people find your blog!
Please enjoy my Bloom Day post. Then, come back on the 22nd and participate in Post Produce. Just as Carol does, I’ll write my Post Produce post and include a Linky widget before I go to bed on the 21st. On the 22nd, you write your own post about what you’re eating from your garden, then link to your post from Your Small Kitchen Garden. I hope you’ll join me on August 22nd and Post Produce.
Here’s what’s abloom in my garden today:
If it’s Bloom Day and tomatoes are in bloom, you’re going to find at least one tomato blossom in my post! This photo is more about hairy stems than it is about blossoms. I’ve harvested about a bushel of tomatoes so far. Barring a late blight incident, I may see three or four bushels from my plants this year.
My thyme plants are struggling a bit this year. One has some seriously involved fungus that I’ve treated a few times with the copper-based fungicide I use on my tomato plants. Amazingly, the stems of that plant touch the stems of a perfectly healthy-looking thyme plant. Too much information? This flower stalk is from the healthy thyme plant.
The mint has been in bloom for weeks. It has overwhelmed the planter holding it, and blossoms hang over the sides. I fear an impending mint invasion and will be vigilant for plants that decide to germinate next to the planter.
Bush cucumber plants I set in a deck planter have grown vines as long and tendrilly as the non-bush cucumbers I planted in my garden. Cucumber blossoms look happy against the deck flooring.
For flower drama in a vegetable garden, you can always count on squashes! This is a butternut blossom, and it clearly understands flower sex. For this photo, it attracted four pollinators, though the reliable pollinator was holding the camera. Despite all the bee activity among my summer and winter squash blossoms, I hand-pollinate every female flower. The bees didn’t budge when I brushed this female flower’s “parts” with a male flower’s “part.”
Shooting obliquely through a window at dusk and zoomed to the max, I captured some poor-quality photos of this cardinal after it plucked a hornworm from my tomato plants. While the image is sketchy, there’s no mistaking the shape and color of the delicacy in the cardinal’s beak.
Birds seem to love my small kitchen garden, so I’m rarely surprised to see some flitting about when I glance out the window. Sometimes I look up while working in the vegetable bed and there’s a catbird or goldfinch poking about within 15 feet of me.
This year, for the first time, I noticed a cardinal showing great interest in my plantings. Oddly, during dinner one evening, a cardinal alighted in our lilac bush and then made its way cautiously onto our deck. There, about eight feet from our dinner table, it snooped around the tomato plants growing in a deck planter. What, I wondered, was so alluring about my tomato plants?
The Cardinal Scores a Hornworm
The next evening, near dusk, I glanced out at the garden and saw the cardinal on the fence near my tomato forest. The cardinal hopped onto the plants out of sight and I watched as the leaves and trellis trembled until the cardinal emerged and landed back on the fence.
The cardinal had something in its beak! What did it grab from my tomato plants? I needed a binocular to answer the question: The cardinal had scored a tomato hornworm! (A link in a tweet from @wormsway since has demonstrated that this was a tobacco hornworm, not a tomato hornworm.) I hadn’t yet spotted any hornworm damage on my tomato plants, but there was the cardinal chowing down.
What an awesome sight! I had no idea cardinals eat hornworms much less that they know to hunt among tomato plants. Goodness, hornworms grow so large, I’d think they could choke a chicken … and a cardinal’s throat must be much smaller than that of a chicken. Hornworms are hard to spot, and you’re not likely to find one until there is tell-tale damage to your plants. I’m so glad to know that at least one cardinal has assumed ownership of hornworms on my tomato plants.
Hornworms on Peppers
The day after the cardinal snagged a hornworm, I noticed one of my sweet pepper plants looked ragged. Rain was falling, and I wanted out of the rain, so yet another day passed before I could examine the plant. The photos tell the story and give you a pretty good idea of why you might want a hornworm-eating cardinal to hang out in your small kitchen garden.
I noticed that a huge amount of one of my lilac bell pepper plants was missing; clearly the work of a creature that chews on leaves.
I was suspicious that perhaps a hornworm was involved with my pepper plant; after all, peppers are in the same plant family as tomatoes. Then I saw that someone had eaten a large chunk of one of the peppers! I’d never known a hornworm to eat a tomato; would a hornworm eat a pepper?
Then I saw the poop pineapples. These are unmistakably output from a tomato hornworm. I promise, if you grow tomatoes insecticide-free for enough years, you will come to recognize hornworm poop. Where oh where was the hornworm? (A tweet I spotted after posting this story pointed out how similar tomato hornworms are to tobacco hornworms. It turns out, this particular hornworm is a tobacco hornworm – apparently, both like plants related to tomatoes.)
Knowledge I gained in the past week: It’s a lot easier to spot a hornworm on a pepper plant than it is to spot one on a tomato plant. First, my pepper plants are way smaller than my tomato plants. Second, a hornworm had converted at least a third of this particular pepper plant into hornworm poop so there wasn’t a lot to examine. I got down low, bent a few leaves this way and that, and there was the culprit!
My very well fed tomato hornworm (actually a tobacco hornworm) was longer and fatter than my index finger. I must have turned a blind eye for my pepper plant to host such a “worm” from cradle to monster (a hornworm isn’t a worm; it’s the caterpillar phase of a hummingbird moth). Woe to the cardinal that tries to gulp down something as big as this. Still, perhaps if I can explain to the cardinal that peppers and tomatoes are in the same plant family, the cardinal will keep my whole garden clear of hornworms.
Sorry. I had to lead with sad apples. It rained nearly every day from apple blossom time until June. To grow pretty apples in such conditions, you need to apply anti-insect treatment constantly, and that gets really expensive. I can buy a bushel of apples for around $12 at the farmers’ market and I might have spent $40 or more to keep ahead of the rain. I gave up very early in the season, and this is typical of what’s on my trees now.
September 22, 2011 is the first Post Produce day. Because my Small Kitchen Garden has experienced its worst growing season in 16 years, I’m tempted to share scenes of sickly vegetables and rotting plants. But the whole point of this day is to Post Produce in celebration of kitchen gardening.
There have been some bright spots, despite the crazy weather, and I’ve captured many of them in photos. Captions accompanying the photos provide details. I hope you’ll join me in this monthly celebration of home kitchen gardening and post about your own produce. Find instructions for how to participate by scrolling to the bottom of this blog entry.
If any kitchen garden plant likes rain, it’s tarragon! I set three tarragon plants in a new bed last fall and they have grown into a forest. In fact, I cut them back aggressively about a month ago and already they are overwhelming the shorter thyme plants in front of them. Until this season, I’d grown tarragon only in containers, and I had no idea how massive these plants could become.
Another standout rain-lover in my small kitchen garden is sage. I moved several plants from a wooden barrel planter last fall, and they have exploded with new, lush growth. Those pretty flowers are invaders from my wife’s nearby ornamental bed. If I ever plant a show garden, I may pair these two much as they look in this photo.
I planted a 14 foot row of chili pepper plants in a repeating sequence of jalapeno, banana, and poblano. Apparently, that row ran above an underground lake and the plants’ roots were waterlogged most of the season; I harvested about a pint of tiny, shriveled peppers. Happily, I also set some bell pepper plants in containers on my deck. In a few more weeks, I expect nearly a dozen large fruits to be red or orange and ready to harvest. They all will end up in a pot of red pepper relish.
While my main garden bed spent two-thirds of the season as a swamp, my garden annex drained quite well (it used to be a sandbox), and bell peppers and poblanos I set there produced a modest number of fruits. It’s not a typical abundant haul, but we’ll enjoy a few meals that feature these smoky delights.
Cucumbers disappointed me this year. They grew vigorously in containers on my deck, but none of the fruits they produced were quite appealing enough to pickle whole. Still, I have used these little morsels in salad, and I’ll probably mix up some pickle relish with the dozen or so that are ready to harvest.
Yippee: green beans! This is my first significant harvest and I collected them today. I planted Kentucky Wonders to climb on my tomato trellises and all the plants died as a result of heavy rains in August. But I’d planted a short row in one of our ornamental beds, and they have grown into a nearly impenetrable clump of intertwined vines. This first picking could serve a family of four if three family members despised green beans. There are green bean babies on the vines, so I’m hoping our first frost is still a month away (though, given the way the season has gone, it wouldn’t surprise me if we got frost at noon today).
This year’s big winner is winter squash. Sure, there are water stains on some of them, but these neck pumpkins and butternut squashes look spectacular considering the season. The biggest neck pumpkin weighs about 12 pounds, and the heap weighs more than 50 pounds. There are several more fruits ripening on the vines (even as the vines drown from recent storms), and there are even a few Blue Hubbards in the garden showing some promise.
Join in and Post Produce!
Join the celebration and show the world what you’re eating from your garden. To participate, Post Produce on your own blog. You don’t have to post photos. List what you’re harvesting, write a poem about it, record a song… create whatever post celebrates your food-growing successes.
Then, return here and create a link to your Post Produce post. Also, leave a comment to entice other participants to visit your blog. That’s all there is to it!
For a few more details about Post Produce, follow this link. There you’ll find a bit about why I started Post Produce along with further suggestions for types of things you might post. I’ll watch for your Post Produce posts and visit every one.
A preview of produce I might post for the very first Post Produce day on September 22, 2011. Pick the produce you’ll post and I’ll look for it on Thursday!
What’s Post Produce? It’s kind of an homage to Carol at May Dreams Gardens and her tradition of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. But rather than blooms, Post Produce is about what you grow to eat.
Your Small Kitchen Garden will host Post Produce on the 22nd of every month, beginning this month. Here’s how to participate:
In your own blog on September 22, post about your homegrown vegetables, fruit, nuts, or fungus. Then visit Your Small Kitchen Garden and add a link to your post. As more people participate, a list will grow of links to bloggers who also grow food. Follow the links and enjoy sharing successes with your fellow kitchen gardeners.
I hope you’ll join me on the 22nd and Post Produce. For more about Post Produce, including a list of ideas to inspire you, follow this link to the Post Produce page.
There are three pots of basil on the handrail of my deck. I put far too many seeds in the pots, and the poor plants grew up stunted. Still, the flowers are delicate and beautiful.
My small kitchen garden, like so many gardens in the US, has struggled through the season. Happily, things are finally moving along, though I’m afraid there is a fungus trying to kill my tomato plants.
But today isn’t about the problems, it’s about the bling! The 15th of every month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. You can learn more about it over at May Dreams Gardens. I failed to capture decent shots of the flowering mint and cilantro. Also, I neglected to photograph corn silk. Still, there were a lot of blossoms today. Please enjoy the photos of what’s abloom in my kitchen garden.
There are two windowsill planters of cucumber plants under the handrail on my deck. This flower snuggles beneath the handrail, and it is one of dozens that have popped in the last week or so.
A bell pepper flower appears healthy and robust. Oddly, my bell pepper plants are thriving while my jalapeno, banana, and poblano pepper plants are struggling.
Despite the appearance of something blighty on some of my tomato plants, they continue produce flowers. I don’t suspect late blight because all the lesions are on lower stems and some lower leaves. I’ve seen no signs of sporulation, so it doesn’t seem likely to move from plant-to-plant. Still, I fear for my tomato crop: it may be quite limited this season.
How’s this? I understand it’s the male flower on a corn plant. My sweet corn is growing ears, and the silk on those is, technically, the female flower. This corn tassel is red and the corn lower down on the plant is also supposed to be red. I’ve never tried red sweet corn, but I suspect it will taste a lot like yellow sweet corn.
That’s a cosmos trying to hide behind a corn leaf. I planted cosmos with my corn because I heard from an online acquaintance that this would keep away corn ear worms. The first ears are nearly ready to harvest. I don’t see evidence of worms, but they can be pretty sneaky, so I won’t know for sure if the cosmos helped until I start shucking.
As long as I’m confessing about planting flowers, here’s an even bigger sin: My wife ceded an ornamental bed to me so I could grow more climbing beans. I set about ten beans across the back of the bed, and then planted five or six types of flower seeds through the rest of the bed. From the looks of things, only two types of flower plants survived, and the first to bloom is a zinnia. The leaves way back against the wall of the house on the left are Kentucky Wonder bean leaves.
On the subject of beans, here’s a flower on one of my bush wax bean plants. The plants suffered heavy chewing by insects until I treated them with insecticidal soap. With new leaves, the plants show more vigor toward reproduction. I’ve harvested a serving of wax beans and anticipate being able to preserve about a gallon of them before the season is over.
Weed. There’s quite a bit of it near my small kitchen garden, and just a few stems actually in the garden. The flowers are pretty so it’s hard to go all anti-weed on them.
I had to finish with a winter squash blossom because it’s all that! This is the biggest squash blossom in my small kitchen garden. It belongs to a neck pumpkin plant and was one of about a dozen gorgeous blossoms peaking out from rain-soaked leaves this morning. Oddly, my blue Hubbard plants have produced about 8 female flowers and only one male flower. I’ve pollinated the blue Hubbards using male flowers from the neck pumpkin plants. So far, they seem to accept this hybrid pollination, but I can’t predict whether the seeds will be viable next year (and if they are, what the squashes might be like). Perhaps I’ll find out next summer?
This onion barely qualifies as “in bloom” on this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. A few petals remain, and I assume the white bud-looking things are future onion seeds. If these grow anything like wild onions, I expect to see sprouts emerge all over this ball within a month or so… assuming I can continue to work around it—at this point, it’s kind of in the way in my small kitchen garden.
It’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and my Small Kitchen Garden actually has something to offer! My vegetables are a few weeks behind compared to past years, but things are finally shaping up. (Understand that I had virtually no spring crops this season because my planting bed was underwater until the end of MAY.) Tomatoes have formed (seedlings went into the garden in early June) and I’m projecting the first will ripen in mid August… which is just a bit later than usual.
Peppers are the hold outs this year. While my bell pepper plants are lush and growing, my jalapeno, banana pepper, and poblano plants have stood for weeks with no apparent growth. Now that the soil is seasonably dry, I hope these struggling plants finally get it in gear.
For long-time readers of Your Small Kitchen Garden, the cilantro and dill pairing should seem familiar; it has starred in many a Bloom Day post. The dill (right) is poised to blossom, while the cilantro (left) is about to produce coriander—seeds from the cilantro plant are, in and of themselves, a popular seasoning.
My herb bed helped me through the wet spring; it was never as wet at the main planting bed so I was able to start annuals alongside the perennials I’d set in in the fall. The purple flowers—clearly in bloom—are on a volunteer that I recognized when it first sprouted; it had snuck in from my wife’s ornamental plantings. The modest blossoms stand out against the lush greens of sage, cilantro, dill, and basil.
Mint blossoms! I don’t know what type of mint it is… it started growing two years ago in a planter containing tarragon plants. I’m OK with it as long as it stays in the container. But if it escapes, I will almost certainly eradicate it; mint is aggressive about colonizing planting beds.
The broccoli was a joke this year. Because of rain, I left seedlings in their starting pots about a month too long. When I finally set them in the garden, the soil was too wet—and then it rained. When the plants finally sent up florets, each would have filled about a tablespoon. The side shoots have been even less impressive. I’ve pulled all but three of the plants, and a rabbit recently pruned two of them. Climbing beans are now emerging from the decimated broccoli area. Pretty yellow flowers will not save the last broccoli plants from a move to the compost heap.
Happiness is a tomato blossom presaging the coming harvest. (I said “presaging” because it has “sage” in it.) I’m growing 10 varieties of tomatoes this year if you don’t count the Cherokee Purples that have sprung up in the compost heap.
There seems always to be at least one interloper at my Bloom Day photo shoots. Here, a fly-looking thingy tries to steal the spotlight from a bell pepper flower. I so hope my peppers have enough growing season remaining to turn red; I’d like to make a batch of red pepper relish using only peppers from my garden.
Yep: weed. At least that’s what my wife says. I think it looks like a morning glory, but my wife assures me it’s not. Still… it really wants to be a morning glory. I suppose I should believe my wife given that these things grow as abundantly as purslane wherever we work the soil.
That’s a cosmos about to burst into song in my vegetable garden. It irks me just a little to have been planting flowers, but I planted corn this year (which I haven’t done since I was a kid). I mentioned one week during #gardenchat (a weekly gathering on Twitter of anyone wishing to discuss gardening) that I was going to plant corn, and someone assured me that if I plant cosmos with it corn ear worms will not visit my crop. I hope this wasn’t just a mean trick to get me to plant flowers… We shall see.
The world’s smallest chili pepper seemed to enjoy the attention at Guinness’s press event earlier this year.
Remember when Giant George and Boo Boo made national news? They met in New York City’s Central Park: the world’s largest living dog and the world’s smallest living dog according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Your Small Kitchen Garden remembers. The original story was so absurd (as in: Really? This received press coverage?), it got me thinking. What if Giant George and Boo Boo had been chili peppers?
World’s Largest Chili Meets World’s Smallest Chili
Have you heard of George and Boo Boo? They are a television sit com waiting to happen.
Giant George was a little shy when he first met Boo Boo. The two kept their distance for several minutes before warming up to each other.
Giant George is the world’s largest chili pepper. Boo Boo is the world’s smallest chili. To celebrate the latest issue of The Guinness Book of World Records, Giant George and Boo Boo met recently in central Pennsylvania.
Boo Boo is a fully-ripe Jalapeno pepper that stands just ¾ of an inch tall. Monster chili pepper Giant George stands over five inches. “Sure,” the peppers’ handler explains. “There are bigger chili peppers. But if Guinness had such a category, George would hold the world record for Hungarian Banana peppers growing in a flower pot on my deck.”
Amazingly, when they first met, Goliath George was more timid toward Boo Boo than Boo Boo was toward George.
The complete lack of media attention at the meetup of these two unique chili peppers left them to get acquainted. It took just a few minutes for Giant George to lighten up. Soon, the two chilies were sharing stories and telling jokes as though they’d known each other for years (chili pepper years).
By the time the two chilies parted, they had gotten very close and vowed that they’d get together again soon. I couldn’t help but point out: If Giant George had rolled over, Boo Boo would have been chili sauce—though not much.
When the world’s smallest chili pepper and the world’s largest chili pepper got together, they became Best Friends For Life. Later, the two met up with some neighborhood onions and tomatoes and made salsa.
I’ve heard many kitchen gardeners ask, “I have a lot of peppers this year. Any ideas for how to use them?” One of my favorite uses for peppers is to cook them up in gumbo.
My small kitchen garden produced a lot of peppers this year. Mostly, I harvested Hungarian banana peppers, but I also enjoyed a variety of bell peppers and a handful of jalapeno peppers. Apparently, a lot of other kitchen gardeners enjoyed similar successes because one question I’ve heard often is, “What should I do with all my peppers?”
Make Gumbo, is my favorite reply. Making a vat of gumbo won’t put a noticeable dent in a surplus of peppers, but it will make for some great eating. Gumbo is a vegetable-laden, thick broth, usually including some type of meat such as chicken, sausage, or seafood. Common in the southern United States and nearly non-existent in the northern states, Gumbo comes in two distinct varieties… though there may be as many recipes as there are people cooking the stuff.
Gumbo with okra
I don’t grow okra because, sadly, I gag when I try to eat it. Fortunately, I found a lovely photo of okra pods on www.flickr.com. When you cut these pods into sections and cook them in your soup, the pods soften up, become slimy, and thicken the broth.
This is a bit of a guess, but I imagine most people make gumbo using okra as the thickener. Okra is a plant with big leaves and gorgeous flowers, and it produces fruits that look vaguely like pods of a milkweed plant.
When you cut Okra pods into sections and boil them in water or stock, they break down into what most people describe as slime. The slime, of course, is thicker than water, so by using okra in soup, you make the soup thicken.
I’ve had okra-thickened gumbo several times, and, sadly, each time I had a very powerful gag response to its consistency. I can’t even comment on its flavor because I was so focused on the gag response that I recall little else about it.
Gumbo with roux
About when I experienced gumbo made with okra, I also happened to have visited New Orleans and eaten at K-Paul’s. The flavors of my meal at K-Paul’s were unique and exciting and I became a fan of Paul Prudhomme, the restaurant’s founder and namesake.
Happily, I got a copy of his cookbook, and read large chunks of it to gain an understanding of Louisiana- and Cajun-style cooking. That cookbook explained how to make gumbo using roux rather than okra as a thickener.
It’s been a long time since I’ve followed Prudhomme’s recipe to make gumbo, but the method I use strongly resembles what I learned from Prudhomme’s cookbook. It’s a big job, so when I make any, I make a vat of it. We eat gumbo for many dinners and lunches over the course of a week or two.
The Secret to Great Gumbo
Gumbo: Chunks of chicken and sausage in a thick broth churning with vegetables and served over rice. Use up some peppers from your small kitchen garden; make gumbo.
I’m convinced that the most important component of great gumbo is the roux. At its simplest, roux is a mixture of oil and flour—usually a one-to-one mix. When you combine white flour and vegetable oil, you produce a white or slightly yellow roux. Cook the roux, and the flour browns… the longer you cook it, the darker brown it becomes. As the roux cooks, you’ll see it gradually turn from white to tan to peanut butter brown. After that, it darkens to the color of milk chocolate and it even begins to redden a bit. Cook it too long, and it’ll burn, turning black. If you’re careless, some will burn to the bottom of the pan and produce black specks which altogether ruin the flavor.
A light roux will thicken gumbo without adding much flavor. However, a dark roux adds an indescribable nuttiness to the soup. While I recall cooking the roux on high heat for many years, I once discovered it cooks just fine on medium heat, and the slower cooking speed gives me freedom to turn my back on it from time-to-time with little threat of it burning.
I’ve embedded a video of me making gumbo that explains every step. To keep it short, I omitted a lot of commentary. Here are a few things that are good to know:
- Andouille sausage is a hot, smoked sausage native to Cajun country. I can buy it locally for about twice what other sausage costs… some day I’ll try making my own. In the meantime, I’m too cheap to pay so much for ground meat, so I use hot Italian sausage in my Gumbo. This works particularly well if I slow cook it on my grill with some kind of hardwood to add smoke.
- Green and red peppers don’t add significant heat to the gumbo unless you leave the seeds in… but that’s a rather imprecise way to control heat. After you’ve finished the gumbo, let it simmer for five minutes or so, then taste. If the seasoning isn’t fiery enough for you, add more cayenne pepper, stir it in, and give it a few more minutes on the heat.
- I used to use a few cloves of garlic in my gumbo, but I eventually discovered that garlic gives me heartburn. Use some if you want; peal the cloves and toss them in the food processor with your other vegetables.
- A meat grinder works about as well as a food processor. Cut up the carrots and celery into small pieces so they don’t stall the mechanism… but you can put all of the vegetables through a meat grinder if you prefer that over a food processor.
- Sometimes my family fishes a disproportionate amount of “goodies” out of the gumbo (sausage and chicken), eventually leaving only broth in the pot. If this happens I re-heat the gumbo to a boil and add more sausage (and sometimes chicken), giving the vat several more days of usefulness.
Please enjoy the video:
Here are some other approaches to making gumbo that might appeal to you (including one that uses okra):
Shrimp Gumbo Soup – Add in about 2/3 of the can of broth, the can of Chicken Gumbo (NO additional water) and chopped tomato. Cover and bring to a slow boil. Add in the raw shrimp, cover and cook for about 3 minutes or until the shrimp are pink. …
National Gumbo Day!: Andouille Sausage and Chicken Gumbo – This recipe is truly at its best when prepared 24 hours ahead of serving time. Simply reheat the gumbo on the stove for several hours on the day of serving. This technique allows for all of the flavors to combine and marry together – a …
louisiana chicken gumbo – 1/4 cup flour 1 tsp salt 1 3 lb chicken cut into 8 pieces 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 cup chopped celery 1 cup chopped green onion 3 cloves garlic; mashed 1 quart chicken broth 2 cup canned whole tomatoes in juice; …
A cluster of tomatoes illustrates the ugly progression of late blight through my small kitchen garden. I’m losing about a bushel of tomatoes to the horrible disease.
It’s not news to anyone who owns a small kitchen garden: This has been a challenging year for gardeners in North America. I’m sorry if this was your first year planting a kitchen garden; I hope the aggravation wasn’t enough to discourage you in coming years.
The south western United States experienced sustained heat and dryness; I heard complaints from gardeners that they couldn’t keep plants watered and cool enough to get decent harvests.
The Atlantic coast and clear out to the Midwest had crazy, sustained rains and cool temperatures. Especially in the north—from New York up into Canada, rain drowned the roots of vegetable plants, and the cool temperatures slowed growth.
Late Blight and Tomatoes
Perhaps worst of all this growing season: Late blight, the fungus that created the Irish potato famine in 1845, shipped along with tomato seedlings to big-box garden centers all over the eastern United States. Late blight thrives in the cool-wet, and for the most part, tomatoes didn’t have a chance.
I completely fell in love with these tomatoes in 2009. Shaped like peppers, they grow quite large. They are so devoid of moisture that they float in water where beefsteaks and other slicing tomatoes sink. They taste terrific. Sadly, the last twenty or so still in my garden are infected with late blight.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, late blight is an American export; someone accidentally introduced it to Ireland. I long ago learned that the late blight fungus is pretty much always on-hand, waiting for the right conditions to kick it into action. A gardener’s best defense against late blight is culture:
- Provide good drainage— If drainage is good, air movement around your plants’ roots is also good; and good for the plants..
- Minimize moisture— Water only as much as the plants need; I haven’t met a vegetable plant that wants its roots wet constantly.
- Control moisture— That is, focus watering on the soil near plants’ roots; don’t use sprinklers and spray nozzles that soak foliage with every watering.
- Don’t crowd plants— You can plant things closer than seed packages recommend and you’ll get great production… as long as everything else goes right. I understand the risks of crowding and I take the lumps when they come… but please choose a level of pain that’s acceptable to you. Crowding traps moisture, blocks air flow, and provides easy pathways for insects and diseases.
- Make sure air can circulate freely— If there’s a lot of air movement within your garden plot, plants will tolerate crowding better than they will in a well-sheltered area.
- Rotate crops— Don’t plant the same crop in the same area two years in a row. Ideally, figure a three- or four-year rotation; don’t repeat tomatoes in the same space for three or four years if you can avoid it.
- Follow a crop only with crops that aren’t closely-related— Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant are all related closely enough that if you plant one in a specific area this season, none should go in that area next season. Please check my small kitchen garden store for books that will guide you to responsible choices for next year’s crops.
- Prevent the spread of disease— Remove sick plants quickly. Bag them and toss them in the garbage, but don’t compost them.
- Plant seedlings grown locally— Best of all: learn to start your own plants from seeds about four-to-six weeks before you put them in your garden. If you prefer to leave that hassle to someone else, at least find a local nursery or garden store that starts its own seedlings. The farther you go for your live plants, the more opportunities the plants have to acquire unwanted pathogens.
I feel pretty confident in guessing that this bell pepper is inflicted with late blight. I had been anticipating a second wave of peppers to harvest in early autumn, but the very difficult growing season had other ideas.
I got very lucky this season:
- I started all my plants from seeds for the first time ever.
- The micro climate of central PA was cool but “wet enough” meaning we got rain when we needed it, but not to excess. I’m quite sure it was low temperatures that caused the most trouble.
- Despite heavy crowding, my plants showed no sign of stress until late August.
- By late August, I’d already harvested about 3 bushels of tomatoes
- Late blight spread very slowly in my garden; it seems to have missed the potatoes, though it seems to be damaging some of my peppers.
Despite the good luck, in just two weeks, my tomato plants have gone from late-season production of gorgeous fruits to overwhelming melt-down with nearly every fruit showing ugly brown lesions. I’m used to harvesting tomatoes up to the first frost, but this weekend I’ll be pulling all the plants and stuffing them into a plastic bag for garbage pickup.
Keep On Gardening
This was an unusual year! It is my first in fourteen seasons at this address where disease has taken hold… and some of those years were far wetter. My guess is that the temperature was the biggest villain in my garden’s problems; summer seemed to last about two weeks. Those weeks fell between three months of early spring and the sudden onset of autumn.
So, don’t be discouraged. Chances are, next season will be “normal…” and if not, perhaps the season after that will be.
My peppers are coming on strong this season, but these are tomatoes. I’m so looking forward to harvesting these. They grow very large and contain very little gel; they are nearly all-meat. I expect they’ll produce an enormous amount of sauce compared to what I’d get from a comparable volume of beefsteak tomatoes. The weight of fourteen plants holding, perhaps, 15 tomatoes apiece was pulling the trellis down, but some cross-bracing seems to have relieved the pressure.
There’s a lot going on in my small kitchen garden, and I’d like to share all of it with whomever might be interested. Alas, I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past three weeks, and I’ve been unable to complete the last of my planned plantings. This is awkward because I’m confident that the seasons aren’t going to wait around for me to catch up: what might have grown to maturity had I planted it in early July will probably hit a wall being planted now all of three weeks later.
Still, today I played catch up. Here’s a list of projects I completed today, though I wish I had finished them in June:
1. Shored up the tomato trellises. Technically, I wouldn’t have known in June where to add shoring; the trellises only started to sag last week. Turns out the tomato stakes I converted into tomato trellises aren’t happy holding the weight of 14 heavily-fruited plants. I expected some trouble when I built the trellises; this morning I dealt with it.
2. Planted basil in another planter and in another patch of garden. I really wish I’d done this in June. I’ve had just enough early tomatoes ripen that I’ve prepared my very favorite of all salads Outrageously Good Tomato Salad from a Small Kitchen Garden. However, none of the basil I planted outdoors this year is mature enough to harvest. So, I’ve nearly depleted the basil plant that grew on my basement windowsill over the winter. I’ll need basil in the next few days, and I’d hate to have to buy it at a grocery store.
I first wrote about how I built supports for my over-crowded tomatoes in a post titled Tomato Supports in you Small Kitchen Garden. This morning I added a cross-piece that ties together three tellises. The tops of the trellises are nearly 7 feet high, and plants are already just six inches shy of them. These plants could grow eleven or twelve feet long before a killing frost knocks them out.
When cilantro plants get tall and start to flower, they put out a lot of very thin leaves. These tend to be woodier than earlier leaves and they aren’t as flavorful. Better at this point to let the plants make coriander and get some new ones started so they’re putting out large, flat, fragrant leaves when the tomatoes are ripe and ready to go into salsa.
Nearly all my peppers are in planters this season. The plants on the deck’s hand rail have produced a lot of small peppers (the planters are too small for the plants). Many of the peppers are turning red, providing striking bouquets all along the railing.
3. Planted more cilantro in the garden. I’ve already benefited from two crops of cilantro. However, the second crop is getting very flowery which means it won’t be so tender and fragrant in the next few weeks. As the beefsteak tomatoes start ripening, I want a lot of wide, young cilantro leaves on-hand because I’m planning to can salsa this year.
4. Planted another soda bottle with carrots. I’ll post an update of my soda bottle carrot planter within the week. Today I started nine carrot seeds in a 3-liter soda bottle. I’m guardedly enthusiastic about soda bottle carrot planters… but more on this in an upcoming post.
5. Set up a planting box to capture the stolons of my strawberry plants. Actually, my strawberries have put out so many stolons this year that I can’t accommodate all of them. I’ve tried to encourage stolons only from the plants that produced large, attractive berries… but I don’t have enough planters—nor room for the ones I have—to handle all the new growth.
6. Planted sweet potatoes using my home-grown alternative to garbage can potatoes. This is extremely experimental for two reasons. 1: I’m not sure whether sweet potatoes will like the garbage can method that potatoes like so well. 2: I “invented” an alternative to the garbage can that adds a bit of risk to the health of the plants. I’ll provide more details in an upcoming post.
I had to stop gardening when my in-laws and family returned from the county fair; they settled into our screened-in porch where I’ve stashed containers, soil, seeds, and other gardening stuff. I’ve two projects I didn’t complete. 1: Planting my last three tomato plants in a reusable shopping bag. 2: Planting a few beans in milk jug planters.
I hope to finish up tomorrow.
My strawberry plants’ stolons have stolons which, in turn, have stolons. The planters sit on the deck, so the strawberries are getting frustrated in their attempts to clone themselves. I’ve directed stolons into two new planters this year, and will continue to capture these babies until I develop a dedicated strawberry bed in my yard.