Sunday, October 12, 2008

Going into hibernation for thesis defense: T minus 30 days

UPDATE: I actually passed! I got out of school - finally and forever! Other new things:
1.I got a scientist-track job at my favorite research institution
2. I got a dog: the spunky, hilarious and cuddly Bueno
3. I bought a house. Really, I bought a yard. More gardening space! Stay tuned as I completely overwhelm myself yet again :)

To the thousands of adoring fans of this blog (note overload of sarcasm per capita), I want to say that there won't be any more posts for about a month. I have ~30 days till I defend my thesis; on November 13, apparently, hopefully, probably, so They* say, They will give me a Ph.D.** Till then, all non-essential systems are powering down, including this blog.

When I return, newly officially over-educated, I have tons to post about fall and winter gardening, row covers, cold frames, indoor HID grow lights, a recap of original season goals (see 1st post) I achieved, and tons to say about grafting (I'm at 100% success rate now). Too late for this season, but maybe they'll be helpful to people next season.

bye for now...

*my thesis committee of 5 awesome, amazingly-intelligent scientists who unfortunately are probably above bribery
**at which point the phrase "crazier things have happened" will no longer be true. Going forward, this phrase will be universally known to refer to my degree.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Goodnight Garden

In the little green garden
there was an impending frost (~35F)
portending the season's end
and on every branch-
so many tomatoes not ripened.

And there were 3 little eggplants hidden behind other plants
and tons of tomatillos
and half-ripe serranos
and my first ripe green zebra.
and chocolate bells and squash that all need a wash
and the habaneros I totally forgot to pick!

Goodnight upside-down tomatoes...

Goodnight tomatillos...

Goodnight Blue Heaven morning glories...

Goodnight giant sunflowers...

Goodnight cucumbers...

Goodnight eggplant...

Goodnight habanero, serrano and hungarian wax...

Goodnight green zebra, on same day as your first harvest...

Goodnight striped cavern, you were prolific...

Goodnight mystery tomato, one who produces only rock-hard green 2lb-ers...

Goodnight Better Bus h, I'm sorry you fell over without support and got taken over by slugs...

Goodnight papaya squash...

Goodnight patty pans...

Good night delicata...

Goodnight Sungold...

Goodnight pasilla and poblanos and chocolate bell peppers...

And goodnight to all my perennials - raspberry, thyme, black-eyed susan, bee balm, lavenders - I expect to see you all next year!!

Goodnight garden.

(end bad cheesy ripoff of children's book)

I don't want the season to end! No!

Post-frost assessment: All things curcurbit completely died. Amazing how leaves can go from green and turgid to black and shriveled in one night! Tomatillo plant also gone, but I managed to harvest about 40 that were ripe or almost ready. Most tomatoes suffered - some lost only a few branches, some are in pretty critical condition. Eggplant was protected enough that it is still trying to make more eggplants.. oh, so futile... Everything will fully die this weekend when we're supposed to get snow. I took cuttings of a couple of the tomato plants, hoping to grow new plants this winter under lights. The cuttings are doing great, so hopefully I'll have Sungolds all winter!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Saving tomato seeds

The cherry tomatoes in my new garden plot - sprawling and unkempt as they are from the last guy - taste fabulous. I really haven't liked raw tomatoes, but these are like candy! Since I don't know what specific variety they are, and they are prolific, I am designating them the subject of my trial attempt at seed saving.
(Apparently seed saving only works with heirlooms, since hybrid seeds might produce a tomato with different qualities. These cherries might be hybrids, unfortunately, but at the least it's good practice for when my black krims are ready!)

I've read up a bit on the method to save tomato seeds, and it looks like a simple process. The point is to remove the germination-inhibiting goo from around the seeds; this is usually done by fermentation:
1) scoop seeds and gel (goo) into a small container
2)add a bit of water, either same amount as goo, or a few tbsp
3)cover loosely so some air can get in/out
4)let it ferment for a few days in a warm location (not too long, though, or seeds will start to germinate). Good seeds should sink (per Patrick)
5)scoop off scum
(5.5 some say keep rinsing out scum/bits)
6)sieve seeds out
7) dry the seeds on paper plate or coffee filter (per Patrick)

There's some differences between sets of directions, but overall the general process is the same.
Here's some links to good directions:

Here's my goo. I used about 10 cherry tomatoes. I ate what was left of most of them :)
I poked a bunch of holes in the saran wrap, and put the container on top of the fridge.

We'll see!

Update 9/26: an coherent, opaque film has formed on the surface. I added a bit more water since the goo seemed really thick, like a lot of the water had evaporated (we have 15% humidity here)

Update 10/1: Was it supposed to grow mold? Grey and black fuzz quickly covered the film. But, when I tried to take off the filmy layer, it and the mold came off in one piece so I guess it was okay. The pic below shows a bit of the mold and the seeds after I drained all the liquid.

I spread the seeds to dry on a coffee filter. Hard to unclump them!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Green Thumb Sunday: practice with macro

Here's some pics I took yesterday with the macro setting on my camera. When I had to get a new camera after my old one broke, I made sure to buy one with manual controls and the ability to get within a few cm in macro mode. I really haven't explored most of the options yet, but it's fun to take simple close-up shots.

Squirrel BYOC party at my plot

I think I now have a pretty good circumstantial case that the squirrels come to my plot to sit and eat the corn they steal from other plots. Here's the clues:

1. Thoroughly-knawed corn cobs left on the bricks surrounding my compost pile
2. Watching vigorous rustling in my garden neighbor's corn patch, and then watching a squirrel burst out of the patch with a cob and take off
3. Happening upon them hanging out, looking guilty:

and running like the little looters they are :)

(by the way, BYOC means Bring Your Own Corn)

I have no corn in my plot this year, but I grew a few last year in my first little plot. I planted the corn before I realized I had no idea when to harvest it. With no one to advise me, the internet was a vague guide, so what the weevils and ants didn't get was mushy and no good. Oh well, always worth a try! And in the garden area I have plots in this year, I'm glad I don't have any corn - the squirrels and raccoons feast and plunder under the cloak of night, leaving the plot owner to find complete wastage come morning.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Makin' it happen: Artic gardening

I don't have anything new to post, because nothing new is happening: almost all my tomatoes are still green, the squash is still producing, the new plot is still weedy (although a lot less so!)

But this article on MSN made me happy: greenhouse gardening above the Arctic Circle. I'm surprised that the greenhouse doesn't need any additional heating! But, that makes it a perfect example of how much one can do without artificially changing the environment: simply make a room with a clear ceiling and let the 24hr sun do all the work. Too bad it is commercial and not a community garden, but it sounds like they do a lot of educational outreach.

The lady interviewed in the article commented on how 24hrs of sunlight sped up the growth process, allowing plants to grow/mature faster than normal during the short 59-day season. But what about photoperiodism? Doesn't night length signal flowering (either short or long night length, depending on type of plant)? If there's no night, how do plants know to flower and produce fruit?
Also, I've learned from indoor grow lights that different wavelengths of light cause different types of growth in plants. Doesn't the sharp angle of the sun up north influence the relative amounts of different wavelengths of light?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dream acreage here I come! You might have to squint

I just calculated that I now have approximately 1.48 hundredths of an acre!

1 acre = 43,560 sq ft
1/3 plot: 15.75ft x 10.3 ft = 162.225 sq ft = 0.00372, 0.372% or 3.7 thousandths of an acre
new plot: 15.75ft x 30.9ft = 486.675 sq ft = 0.0111, 1.11% or 1.11 hundredths of an acre
Grand Total: 1.48% of an acre

I've always believed in rampant baseless extrapolation so here we go:

I started out with a plot last year in another garden (on the other side of the city), that was about 100 sq ft (I gave up that first plot for my current 1/3: 100->160sqft). This gives me 3 data points, or garden acquisitions, total. Plotting my total square footage at each of these changes (y axis), by how many months had elapsed since I began community gardening, gives the line to the right.

Extrapolating linearly, at this rate it will only take me 76 years to acquire an entire acre. Wow. I have some good longevity genes on my side, but that's still pushing it. Not to mention that the community gardens only allow you 2 plots total (which is why this is baseless extrapolation - merely an excuse to graph something).

Clearly I need another plan.....

weed to girl ratio 1000000:1

I am just as excited as I was a few days ago about getting another, entire plot - quadrupling my gardening space - but I am now experiencing just how hard it is to undue someone else's neglect. I am also experiencing the irony of getting so much land but having to dig up stubborn taprooted weeds from every inch of it.

Here's the plot. You might be thinking "hey, at least there's no weeds under that black landscaping fabric" but you'd be wrong.

However, for my troubles, I've inherited some new plants that managed to grow amongst the voracious weeds. I'm not sure if it's ironic, but it's definitely more squash.
I now have: butternut squash, yellow squash(no!) and zucchini, lemon cucumber, cabbage, some fancy broccoli that may never flower, and a swarming mass of unsupported cherry tomato vines. Rumor has it there's a couple of pepper plants in there, but I haven't gotten to those beds yet.

I weeded 4 hours Saturday and 5 hours Sunday, and I'm not even done with 1/3 of the plot. I thought I'd rototill it, but realized that would just cut up the weed roots and multiply the weeds. So I have to go dig up as much of the roots as I can by hand, with a shovel. My hamstrings are so sore from bending and pulling!

However, I'm starting to acquire a taste for my new fresh insta-cherry tomatoes off the vine! Tonight I made a fabulous roasted tomato salad dressing with them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Grafting Round 1: The epiphytic tomato

Who knew tomatoes could be epiphytic ( epiphyte: a plant that derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and grows usually on another plant)? Only under overzealously-controlled, extremely unnatural conditions, i.e., my inadvertent tomato sauna/terrarium. This was my first attempt at grafting, and I learned a lot during and since. I was possibly marginally close to success. Here's the story:

I'll try to explain the techniques and reasons for grafting in another post. Briefly, grafting is growing the top of one plant on the roots of another. The plant used for its vigorous and disease-resistant root system is called the rootstock, and the plant you want to actually grow - in the case of tomatoes, the variety you want to harvest and eat - is called the scion. A successful graft means that the rootstock stem fuses with the scion stem, xylem and phloem channels connect and water/nutrients pass up/down, and the plants become one. The most important thing is for the two stems to be the same width, so the xylem and phloem line up; they are only around the outer part of a stem and need to have contact in order to heal together.

While there's several techniques for joining scion to rootstock, for my initial trial, I was entranced by the idea of growing two varieties of tomatoes off of one plant. That meant inserting the main stem of the scion into the rootstock main leader (but not cutting off the rootstock leader), with the goal of the scion eventually becoming another leader. It's a more complicated graft for a beginner to do successfully than something like tube grafting (I think), so of course I pick this as my first attempt in which I have one try to get it right. However, the technique, called "approach grafting", has some built-in insurance: when slicing the two stems together, all roots are left intact until the graft "takes" and new growth forms. Here's a diagram (from ASGAP). In order to keep 2 leaders - one rootstock, one scion - I would eliminate "Cut 1".

I planted two varieties close to each other in the same pot: Stupice, a nice paste heirloom, and better boy, a hybrid. The plan was to insert the main stem of the Stupice into the main stem of the Better Boy, since Better Boy has the VFN resistance.

Here's where it got fun:
1) While I was away at a conference, the Stupice significantly outgrew the Better Boy. The plants were already planted next to each other, but the stem diameters no longer matched. Brilliant.

Plan change:
refer to the figure to the right (from Britannica Online, cleft grafting): can't do approach graft (method 2, although I didn't know about method 1 at the time); I have lop off the Better Boy stem, slice it into a wedge shape, and stick it into the Stupice stem (method 5). I didn't know it at the time, but this is what Britannica Online calls "side cleft" graft and what a TAMU workshop calls "side" graft.

2) Everything I read emphasized the absolute need for same stem diameter. Not only does this affect the height at which you insert the scion, but quite a large slice into the rootstock stem is required to accommodate the scion stem if they are the same diameter. So I ended up slicing through most of the rootstock stem. Actually, I had to cut a wedge out of the rootstock with the same angles as the scion wedge. I found out it's really hard to control a razor blade in soft plant tissue. I cut really deep.
If only I knew: according to TAMU, side grafts are recommended when the stems aren't the same diameter. Makes sense now.... if only the TAMU site showed up in regular google search results, not just image results...

But, I managed to get good contact between scion and rootstock. I secured the graft with a clothespin - it was the right size and tension (not too tight) and, most importantly, I had it on hand - and used kabob sticks as support stakes taped around the plant pot (you can see them in the last couple of pictures) to keep any cover off the plant itself. The next step was to let the plant heal by providing an atmosphere where it has to do as little work (transpiration) as possible: somewhere dark, warm, and humid.

Thus, my first healing chamber: the plant on a flooded seed tray with a black plastic garbage bag around it and a seedling heat mat under it. I put the plant pot inside another pot so it sat above the standing water in the seed tray. The support stakes kept the garbage bag away the plant, at least mostly. The heat mat heated the chamber enough to create a very humid, warm atmosphere. I opened the bag to vent the chamber a couple of times a day. It was closed pretty tightly by cinching the bag and clipping it with a binder clip.

Upon flashlight examination over the subsequent week, the graft never wilted too much and was looking good. However, the clothespin covered the graft union so I could never see if it remained in good contact,etc. The chamber remained at a steady 80F and very wet - it was pretty much my very own bedroom rainforest. I really didn't know how long to keep the plant in the chamber, so after 7 days - the time recommended for smaller grafts in online guides - I began leaving the bag slightly open for an hour or so at a time. But each time, the scion wilted a bit, so I thought maybe the graft wasn't ready for the real world yet. I started to notice some edema (swelling of cells) on the rootstock leaves after about a week, which was probably a sign of too high humidity and temperature (but which the online guides said would be temporary). Since the scion was still wilting when I reduced the temperature and humidity, I felt I couldn't move the plant out of the healing chamber quite yet. Maybe the molding wooden support stakes should have been another hint I created a little tropical rainforest for my tomato, and what I saw next was bound to happen:

Adventitious roots! No! Here, you can see that the scion put out its own roots (right above the clothespin). And why not? There's almost 100% relative humidity, quite confusing. (A few times, the garbage bag would get so weighed down with clinging moisture inside that the support stakes would poke through, and the heavy bag would be resting on the plant. Also bad.)

So after 14 days, I decided some tough love was in order; the plant would die if I didn't give it some light. Here's my 2nd phase healing chamber:

This is in a relatively low-light window. I poked a few small holes in the ziploc bag, and spritzed the inside with a spray bottle of water twice a day. As long as it stayed wet, the scion looked perky!

Finally a week later - it had now been 3 weeks - I loosened the ziploc and set it in a window with more light, and the scion promptly wilted past the point of no return. Yep, after all that - done in a day or two. But, at least I could now remove the clothespin and look at the graft union. What I found was that there was no union. The scion just had adventitious roots, and the rootstock cut had callused over so it could never heal back together. I think the first healing chamber was a little too hot, causing enough sap production in the wounds to force apart the scion from the rootstock at the graft union. The Stupice was still alive, barely (what a trooper), so I called this experiment over and made it a stem splint with part of a straw.

The Stupice is hanging on, but with the vigor of a guy long overdue for a triple bypass. No surprise since I cut almost all the way through the stem - it's running on probably 1/4 of it's xylem/phloem channels. It's pretty pathetic. It keeps growing straight up, with a few little leaves, but has a fruit forming now! The mature tomato will totally break the stem, but I'm going to let it go because hey, who am I to alter nature ;)

Lessons Learned:

1)if trying an approach graft again, plant the two together in the same pot at grafting time, not before, to assure same stem diameter.

2) chill out on the healing chamber conditions. Less than 80F, definitely less than 100% relative humidity. Wondering if maybe it doesn't have to be completely dark; not every guide I've read now recommends total darkness (incl. TAMU, which recommends something extremely similar to my 2nd phase chamber).

3)I need a sturdier structure for the chamber, so it won't touch the plant. While I think it was the sap production that pulled the graft apart, any plant movement might disturb the graft union; an evaporation-laden plastic bag wants to fall on the plant no matter how much I don't want it to.

4)I should try a simpler grafting technique (tube grafting?):
a) so I can claim a success
b) the clothespin was heavy (did it tug on the graft?) and blocked view of the graft union. Tube grafting uses a clear tube which holds the stems together firmly.

Round 2 recap coming soon...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My first black tomato: color wheel now complete!

Black from Tula, from one of my upside-down tomato plants. This first fruit was pretty beat up:

but I must say it tasted WONDERFUL! It lacked that tomato "bite" but still had a lot of flavor.

Did I mention I don't actually like raw tomatoes? But I liked this one. Now I can't wait for the Black Krim to ripen!

I've had one Moonglow(orange),one Yellow Boy, and one Better Boy (red) thus far. This Tula not only completes my tomato color wheel (of what I've planted (no whites)) but also is my favorite. The Yellow Boy was pretty citrusy and acidic, the Moonglow was a little fruitier, and the Better Boy tasted like a regular tomato. Hard to describe, but they definitely all taste quite different! I had no idea about heirlooms until this season - it's turning out to be really interesting!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I got another plot!! Can the world get better? I'm not sure

Growing Gardens is the organization that manages the Boulder community gardens. There's quite a demand for plots, so if you get one and don't take care of it - prepare, weed, actually try to grow something - they take the plot back and give it to someone who will. And on August 14 for plot #308, that someone was me!!!!!!

I have only a 1/3 plot right now (18' x 9'?). I've maxed it out - I can barely walk around. With the addition of a full plot (18' x 27'?), my gardening space quadrupled in 1 day! There are not words to describe how happy this makes me. I'm beyond exclamation points now. It's just too good.

I have big winter gardening plans this year, mainly focusing on cold frames. My plans were of course bigger than my gardening space (till now!). With no experience and no space, I thought, this was the perfect project ;) But things are coming together...

Last weekend, I attended a workshop on 4-season gardening given by the Boulder Sustainability Education Center. The workshop covered cold-season crop seeding times, temperature requirements, and physical protections: row covers and cold frames. Although I already knew a lot of what they taught, I learned more about times to start seeds and ways to build cold frames that definitely will be vital to my wintertime success.

Fall season crops need to be started now, so they are established and can just "maintain" when the weather gets really cold. However, summer season crops aren't done yet and won't be for at least another month. I was wondering just where in the world I was going to plant these fall-season seeds in the meantime. Voila! A whole new plot!

1) prepare soil in new plot, after other guy "moves out". Hopefully he'll leave his good plants...
2) plant lettuce, chard, spinach ,kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, mache, cabbage, possibly a cold-hardy tomato like Sub-Arctic Maxi or Siberian, just to experiment. Some will be planted in raised beds, others flush to ground, others below ground (~3 beds?)
3)when it gets cold, place cold frames around beds. I want to test which setup stays warmer; seems like raised beds would heat up faster, but I'm wondering if setting a bed a foot into the ground would keep the temperature more stable.
Anyone out there have experience with this?

Sunflower glamour shots

My sunflowers are blooming! I planted three kinds: Taiyo (giant yellow), Velvet Queen (burgundy) and strawberry blonde (pink to yellow). I found out only two kinds made it: Taiyo and strawberry blonde. Oh well! They are beautiful! Here's some pics:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Aww, shucks!

The nice and knowledgeable folks over at Bifurcated Carrots wrote a post about my blog!

In the spirit of beer appreciation, Patrick, here's a pic of my hops vine! I really wanted to take a new picture of it with a Sierra Nevada next to it, but my camera broke the other day... anyway, hopefully sometime soon there will be some hops on it!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Garden Progress Pics!

I'm long past due to post some pictures of how the garden is coming along. In early June, it looked like this. Check it out now!
And forgive the weird picture arrangements as I try to figure out blogger - coding html into a WYSIWYG editor is killing me! When I figure out how to get the formatting the way I want it, maybe I'll post the code changes.

The pics face south. On the left, the moonglow tomato (left of wall of water) and the tomatillo (right of wall) dominate the pic. The wall is around my Sungold cherry tomato, a late addition that is a bit blocked from the sun by the huge tomatillos. On the right, the monster in the foreground is the papaya squash. The okra is in the wall of water in the foreground - it's producing , and has the most beautiful creamy white/yellow flowers!, but hasn't gotten that big. There's peppers behind it, tomatoes behind those, and the papaya squash monster behind those. The dying melon is to the east and underneath the papaya.

And, lest I forget to mention, the upside-down tomatoes! They are getting pretty big and have lots of tomatoes forming! Not as big as my Moonglow, but bigger than some of my other tomatoes in pots (probably because I started these earlier). I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do when the tomatoes get big and weigh down the branches, since squash are right underneath both plants...

Here's the delicata squash on 7/4, and then again on 7/28, AFTER I cut it WAY back so it wasn't blocking the entrance and walkways. This plant literally was growing a foot a day last week. I also discovered tons of squash forming!!!

Eggplant budding, ridiculous giant sunflower, my morning glories/moonflowers vining like crazy (hopefully both the sunflowers and the vines will have flowers soon!) The vines are now growing 6in-1ft a day. Some are reaching the top of the arbor (8 ft?). I am training them along twine strung in a sunburst pattern (hard to see in the pic) - hopefully it will be pretty! Both of the sunflower shots are taken facing north.

Inventory, updated

One of my earliest posts was an inventory of all the plants I was growing and planned to grow, both in my community garden plot, in pots around my house, or for grafting experiments. While most of the intentions were fulfilled, not all have come to full fruit(veg)ion. Some of the seedlings I got from friends didn't make it, some I played God with and killed on purpose (sorry!!!), others I killed unintentionally, and one I'm reading last rites to as we speak:

Noir des Carmes melon
5/08 - 7/30ish/08
Taken from this world by cucumber beetles and naive garden planning (oops)

Moment of silence, please.

Alright, must get on with our lives... here's my plants that are alive and should be successful this season:

Lemon Boy (upside-down pot)
Black from Tula (upside-down pot)
Better Bush (garden)
Moonglow (garden)
Sungold cherry (garden)
Big Beef (2, 1 garden, 1 pot)
Marvel Stripe (2 pots, 2 garden?)
Cavern (2, 1 garden, 1 pot)
Black Krim (pot)
Persimmon (pot)
Constaluto (genovese or other, we'll see, in pot)
Green Zebra (1 pot, 1 graft, 2 garden?)
Opalka (pot)
Stupice, barely hanging on after being strangled by unsuccessful graft attempt
Blondkopfchen (cherry) (2, in pots) - small, left over from grafting stock
...few other graft survivors:
green zebra, mentioned above
Vintage Wine
Chocolate Stripe (sent to dad in TX)
Cherry (sent to dad in TX)
Ace (sent to dad in TX)

Marketmore cucumber, 2 (one in garden, one in pot)
Armenian yard-long cucumber (garden)
Papaya squash (garden)
Patty pan squash (garden)
Delicata squash (garden)

Fairy Tale
Rosa Bianca
Gistada de Liada
(frankly, I've lost track of which is where but 2 are in my garden, one is in a pot)

Perennials (all in garden)
Black Raspberry Bush!
Hops Vine!
Black-eyed Susan
Bee balm
2 kinds of lavender
4 kinds of thyme

Pasilla (Hole Mole) (garden)
Chocolate bell (garden)
habanero (garden)
Serrano (garden)
hungarian hot wax (garden)
Poblano (garden)
Santa Fe (pot)
Fresno (pot)
Red Demon Thai (pot)
Jamaican hot (pot)

garlic (garden)
chives (pot)
lavender and thyme mentioned above
fino verde basil (pot and on top of upside-down tomatoes)
genovese basil (pot and on top of upside-down tomatoes)
chocolate mint
rosemary (pot)
cilantro (on top of upside-down tomato)

Okra (garden)
Tomatillo ( 2 pairs, 1 in garden, 1 pair in pots)
French marigolds (garden)
Nasturtium (garden)
morning glory (garden)
moonflower (garden)
red onion (garden and in strawberry pots)
portulaca (pots)
Taiyo sunflower (garden and one in pot)
Strawberry blonde sunflower (garden)
Velvet queen sunflower (garden)
zinnias (garden)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Attack of the Beetles III

As with recent wars elsewhere, my struggle against the beetles is ongoing, progress has been made, it wouldn't make sense to quit now, and I might have declared victory a bit too soon (see parts I and II).

Enemy #1: Flea beetle
Status: new insurgents!
The tomatoes had outgrown the flea beetle damage and were/are taking off. Also, the upside-down tomato plants had completely avoided the first wave of flea beetles that were attacking all my in-ground plants (guess they couldn't jump that high - ha! outwitted you, didn't I, you little f*ers!) Okay, well, not so fast there, J... perhaps I outwitted them the first time, with help from some diatomaceous earth, but.... they're back! With reinforcements! They're all over my in-ground tomatoes. The beetles have also managed to make it up to my upside-down tomatoes, I assume by hopping up all the squash leaves underneath both plants. You're welcome.
Strategy: Management. Time for some more DE.

Enemy #2: Cucumber beetle
Status: buzzing around but are basically has-beens. However, I fear late-season comeback.
In my last report from the front lines, I gave up on sprays and was resorting to physical blockage involving walls of water with cheesecloth over the top, and row covers. The wall arrangement worked very well until the plants were too big to fit inside. At that point, I fearfully took off the walls/cloth and hoped for the best. The squash won: thankfully, squash is such a fast, strong grower that the beetles couldn't do measurable damage to the plants anymore.

However, the cucumber plants were under heavier attack, suffered more damage before I re-covered them, and probably continued to get eaten after I was forced to uncover them because they were getting too big, too, for the wall/cloth contraption. The covers allowed both plants to recover a bit and put on new growth, which I think was key to their survival. They are survivors! As shown in the last post, I harvested 2 lovely cucumbers from my Marketmore plant this week. Still no Armenian yard-longs, but I think I saw some babies on there a few days ago.
Lessons Learned:
1)cuc beetles can do terrible damage to really small plants. Physical covers like walls of water, cheesecloth or row cover material are the only good way to protect small plants from them. Cover your cucumber, melon or squash plant until it is flowering and/or can't fit under the cover anymore.
2)I am sure pyrethrin sprays have some efficacy but just aren't worth the cost, effort and potential to kill beneficial insects.
Strategy: feeling sense of impending doom about late-season resurgence of cuc beetle damage, not sure what to do! Come on, cucumbers! Produce! Hurry!

Monday, July 28, 2008

First Harvest! Squash, squash and oh, more squash....

Here are pics of my first harvests - squash! I'm now questioning what the heck I was thinking growing 2 yellow squash plants, because I'm drowning in squash. But, I was intrigued by the specialty shapes of both since I have only grown plain green zucchini before...

The papaya pear squash came first (maturity ~45 days) and continues... the patty pans (maturity ~50 days) were first ready 1.5 weeks ago while I was at a conference. I asked a friend to go get them if she wanted them, but she never made it over to the garden, so pic 2 shows you what can happen to a patty pan in less than a week if not picked: from 2-3in diameter to over 4lbs (a zucch last year topped out at over 7lbs! I made a stuffed zucchini boat out of that one, and my friend decorated another biggun for Halloween) I hope the patty pan will resume production now that I've picked all the giants off.

My first squash meal, made with the 3 papaya squash in the first picture, was a simple saute with some herbs. But now I'm focusing on bulk: Right now I'm eating part of a gallon of curried squash soup, have a squash-heavy lasagna in the fridge waiting to be cooked and another pound or two in the freezer, gave away 8lbs to friends and several to the neighbors... and there's more papayas forming now. I'm going to give the next big harvest to the EFAA, but I would like to eat as much of my "free" food as I can. Any recommendations?

Also, I found 2 perfect cucumbers yesterday! I don't know how I missed them before. I had one tonight and have to say: it was SO good! I made some hummus to go with it...