Thursday, July 31, 2008

Organic solution for powdery mildew

The hot and humid weather of late July in Indiana has come and along with it, Powdery Mildew in my garden. My spaghetti squash, zucchini, and especially pumpkins are all affected. So this morning I made up a mixture of 1 cup of skim milk to 9 cups of water and filled a spray bottle so that I could organically get rid of the powdery mildew. It was a lot of work and not very enjoyable since at 10:00am it is already about 80 degrees and 74% humidity. But I managed to refill my spray bottle three times and douse all the affected plants. According to the website I just linked to, a weekly application should be in order. Sigh. I'm still worried about the possibility of squash vine borer infestation, but for now it doesn't seem to be a problem (with the exception of one lost zucchini plant).

Meanwhile, the harvest continues. I continue to get at least 2-3 cucumbers a day. This morning I picked 3, one of which is a record breaker in length at a whopping 16 inches.
Also, here is a photo that is representative of the tomatoes I'm harvesting each day lately.This isn't a huge amount, but we're getting that much every day. It's starting to be more than we can eat. This particular example shows one Better Boy, two Romas, several large grape tomatoes, and scads of cherry tomatoes. At this point, the majority are still cherry tomatoes. They are the Sweet 100 variety and they live up to their name. When I buy tomatoes at the grocery store, grape tomatoes are always sweeter than cherry tomatoes. But in these homegrown tomatoes, the cherry are far sweeter than the grape. I am going to cut back on the number of mini tomatoes I grow next year, and I think I'll stick solely to the Sweet 100 cherries.

As for dealing with the backlog of cherry tomatoes, I discovered via the internet that you can dry cherry tomatoes to save for later use. The other day I sliced a cookie tray full of cherry tomatoes, laid them cut side up on the tray, and baked them in the oven at 200 degrees for at least 4 hours. They probably could have gone a little longer, but I had to leave the house and didn't want to leave the oven on. So I put them in a baggie and put it in the freezer. That should be fine. I can rehydrate them and add them to soups for seasoning this winter. I'll probably end up doing that again as the cherries continue to ripen. The number of green cherries still on the vine far outnumbers what I've picked so far.

Today's local weather:
High temp: 86 F
Low temp: 68 F
Hot and very humid

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Squash Vine Borer

As a follow up to yesterday's post about the dying zucchini, it seems I have a case of Squash Vine Borers. I pulled up the dead plant last night and the main stem broke off in my hand just an inch or two above ground level. What I found looked much like the two pictures at the bottom of the page I've linked to. Big white juicy grubs, three of them, squirming around in a rotted stem. I've put them in a trash bag and tied it off. Now I'm on the lookout for frass (a golden cornmeal-like substance that appears around the holes once the little grubs burrow into the stems). I haven't seen any more yet, but I'm paranoid.

The really annoying thing is I saw a pretty looking new insect in the garden yesterday and spent over an hour searching on the internet trying to figure out what it was. I never found a satisfactory match. Then this morning, my husband found a photo of the adult moth form of the squash vine borer. I'm 100% positive that's what I saw yesterday. If only I'd known! I should have killed it then and there...UGH!

Today's local weather:
High temp: 83 F
Low temp: 65 F
Sunny and clear

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

We made a discovery this morning when Jeff was watering the garden. Having the water raining down onto the plants made the squash bugs come out. He stood there watering while I was on the watch for the bugs. Whenever I'd see one, I'd squash it (pun intended). I must have killed at least 5 or 6 just this morning. We've killed 2-3 a day for the past several days. I've also made at least two trips a day out to check the leaves of the pumpkins, spaghetti squash, and zucchini. I've torn off several corners of leaves with clusters of squash bug eggs on them. I drown them in the bucket of water with dish soap. I'm doing my best to keep those critters from gaining control in my garden.

Death of a Zucchini

As you can see, it looks like one of my two zucchini plants has about bit the dust (the one on the left). I noticed that it hadn't really been sending out blossoms the last couple of days and was a little wilty looking this morning. Jeff watered the garden and we hoped it might perk up. If anything it has gotten much worse. I'm not sure what the culprit is, but you can see the other plant (on the right) looks fine. In fact, it has about 3 new zucchini on it. I suppose I should pull up the dying plant so whatever is wrong with it doesn't affect the healthy plant.

It has served us well...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Big Salad

This is what I harvested from my garden last night:

* 4 large grape tomatoes
* 8 cherry tomatoes
* 6 long cucumbers
* 2 large zucchini
* 1 green bell pepper
* 3 green onions
* 2 carrots (my first two this year!)

I had to buy the lettuce and spinach at the store, but I combined them with the tomatoes, half a cucumber, the bell pepper, the green onions, and the carrots to make a big salad to go with dinner. This is exactly what I had in mind when I planted all these salad veggies! It's too bad I couldn't provide the lettuce and spinach too. But timing is everything in gardening.

The carrots were a risk. I'd checked on the carrots before and they were no bigger than toothpicks. But I'd been purposely avoiding them hoping they were growing. I decided to try again yesterday and I got two plump carrots that were about 4" each. The variety is St. Valery (heirloom) which I got from Seeds of Change. According to the seed packet and the website, these should be at least 8" long, but I attribute their length to my soil. I imagine it is pretty dense down deep and I didn't have the equipment necessary to dig deep enough. But I'm not complaining. 4" carrots are fine with me. A bigger carrot problem, in my opinion, is I had trouble thinning them and I worry that some of the remaining carrots are so close together that they won't grow very much as a result. I've thinned a couple of times, but it is hard to reach in there. Part of the problem is that the carrots are on the interior of their bed and are a little harder for me to comfortably reach. More lessons for next year.

So I now have 11 cucumbers in my fridge. I also have 9 zucchini. I've decided that today I'm going to shred the zucchini and freeze it for future zucchini breads.

Today's local weather:
High temp: 79 F
Low temp: 59 F
Sunny and clear

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Looking ahead to fall

These are the dog days of summer where daytime highs are in the upper 80's to lower 90's. My garden has become a jungle and every day offers something to harvest. But I am beginning to think about transitioning to fall.

Yesterday I picked the second and final batch of beans from my Blue Lake bush beans. I was surprised that the second batch was almost as big as the first was a week ago. I simmered them on the stove for a couple of hours and we had them with dinner last night. They were delicious, but I really wished I'd gone the pole bean route because two batches of green beans just aren't enough for me or for the family. But, the bush beans are spent for the season, so when I harvested the beans, I pulled the plants up and put them in the compost bin. This clears an area for some fall plantings that I plan to make around August 1.The space along the left (just next to the onions) is where the beans had been. Across the path from them is the area where my lettuce was earlier in the summer. I've already planted broccoli and cauliflower seeds in the former lettuce bed. They haven't germinated yet but it has only just been 7 days. Any day now...

Here's something that has me excited: my spaghetti squash. I have 8 spaghetti squash set so far. I love them and can't wait to begin harvesting them. The rest of my family isn't so fond of them. I'll have a lot to eat myself one of these days. Of course, I haven't figured out how or where I'm going to store them. I really wish I had a root cellar. This picture is a closeup (complete with morning rain still on) of the largest of my 8 spaghetti squash:

Finally, it is only Tuesday and I'm already thinking this coming Friday will be Pickle Day part 2. In the time since Saturday I have accumulated 5 huge cucumbers in my fridge and there are at least 3-4 more out there today. By Friday I will have enough for more pickles. I love looking at my two plants that have vined all over the garden fence and take up probably 15 feet of its length. Isn't it pretty?

Today's local weather:
High temp: 84 F
Low temp: 62 F
Partly cloudy, chance of showers this afternoon

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bug update

Well, everyone I've heard from has confirmed that the insect in the top photo of my last post is a striped cucumber beetle. The second is harder to pin down, but it seems likely that it is a squash bug...a bad bug. I was hoping it was a good one.

Anyway, the very next day I went outside and was surprised that I could find only a fraction of the bugs I saw the day before. I was scouring those plants and found very few cucumber beetles. The few I found were hiding inside the closing blossoms of various plants. I found one squash bug on a zucchini I was picking and I killed it. I haven't seen any more since. My husband says he's seen 5 or 6, but I've only seen two. And I've been wandering in the garden on the lookout.

Either they are good at hiding (and I'm bad at seeing) or maybe the birds have gotten them? We have a tree and birdfeeder at the corner of the garden and that corner has become bird hangout central this summer. I attribute our low bug population up to this point in part to the many birds.

In my reading, I'm starting to think I am lucky that these bugs only appeared now after my plants are well established. They could have been devestating if they'd appeared when the plants were small and starting out. Next year will be a worry as there may be descendents from these current bugs. I will be keeping an eye out for these critters and will be looking into what I can do to fight them.

Today's local weather:
High temp: 87 F
Low temp: 67 F
Scattered severe thunderstorms

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What are these bugs?

This post is a request for help from my readers. I have been really lucky with bugs this year. I think using chemicals in past years has kept all bugs away. That was a real problem for me early on because I had no pollinators. I had to do it myself. I'm thrilled to say that the bees are back. Every morning I have lots of bumblebees and even honeybees buzzing around the blossoms in my garden, pollinating them and helping my garden to grow. However, yesterday I discovered a new bug and this one I'm not so happy about. Here's an enlarged photo I took yesterday of the inside of one of my male pumpkin blossoms:The large insect on top is a bumblebee and he's just doing his job. It's the smaller one down below that has me more worried. Can anyone confirm for me whether this is a striped cucumber beetle? They have suddenly appeared from out of nowhere and this morning there were at least one or two in every single one of my spaghetti squash blossoms and most of the pumpkin blossoms. I've only seen a couple on the cucumbers and nearby melons, but there are bound to be more. I've tried squishing some when I find them, but there are so many and I can't get my fingers into the blossoms without destroying them.

Then this morning as I was checking on them, I discovered this on one of my pumpkin leaves:At first I thought this might be one of the Assassin Bugs I've heard about. But then a quick search on the internet brought up pictures that don't look exactly like this one. Anyone know what it is? Is it a beneficial insect? Has the cavalry arrived to help me battle the cucumber beetles (if that is indeed what they are)?

I want to find an organic way to deal with this, but I do feel like I need to do something quick as there are tons of these bugs covering my garden! Help!

Today's local weather:
High temp: 86 F
Low temp: 72 F
Partly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms in the evening

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pickle Day

Today was my first ever canning experience. I'm thrilled to say that my two cucumber plants that worried me back in May are now officially out of control. In the past week I have collected 18 foot-long cucumbers. And yes, foot-long is long but lest you think I'm letting them get too big, that is the size this particular variety gets. They are absolutely delicious. I never want a store-bought cucumber again.

Alas, what is one to do with this many cucumbers? Make pickles!

I began by slicing the cucumbers. Slicing was easier than spears since the cucumbers were so long. Besides, I like pickles on my burgers.
The recipe I used called for 7 pounds of cucumbers. It seemed like a huge amount (and did turn out to be too many in the end), but we had the cucumbers for it.So once the cukes were sliced, I packed them into the pint jars we'd been warming in the dishwasher. Here my 6yo son watches the excitement.After I packed the jars with cucumbers, I handed them to my mom who ladled in the pickling liquid (vinegar and spices).Once filled, we put on the lids and rings and put them into a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Now that they're finished, all 10 pints of kosher dill pickles sit cooling on my kitchen counter.Once they cool for 24 hours, I can store them. Then I have to wait 4-6 weeks before they're ready to eat. But they should keep for up to a year.

The thing is, I may have enough cucumbers to do this again next Friday! I may end up giving away pickles as Christmas presents this year!

Today's local weather:
High temp: 86 F
Low temp: 70 F
Partly cloudy

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Great Disappointment

Yes, these are my Red Norland potatoes today. My Irish Cobblers look about the same. They are done for, I'm afraid.

I'm not sure exactly what happened to them, but I have a feeling it was all the rain we got this spring/early summer. When I tried to dig one up to see what they look like under ground, the soil was water-logged dense clay. No wonder they didn't grow.

I have to admit that they started looking bad a few weeks ago. And the rest of my garden is thriving so much, I kind of ignored the potatoes. At this point, I'm thinking of just digging up what I can and starting over with my fall crops. Of course, I am worried about the quality of the soil but don't really know what to do about it. My dad said I could add sand to it for next year's potato crop. But I don't even know if I'll be doing potatoes again next year. Right now I'm leaning toward not. I will do sweet potatoes though. They're better for you anyway.

Oh, and I planted some broccoli and cauliflower seeds last night for my fall crop. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for those. My family loves broccoli. I'm not so sure about the cauliflower. But I like it anyway.

Today's local weather:
High temp: 90 F
Low temp: 68 F
Sunny and clear

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bean Harvest

It occurred to me this evening as I wandered the paths of my garden, that the bush beans were in serious need of harvest. Suddenly the tiny beans had filled out and were weighing some plants down to the ground. These beans are several inches long and as wide or wider than a pencil. And every plant was bursting with them. I know what we'll be having for dinner tomorrow night...

Today's local weather:
High temp: 83 F
Low temp: 59 F
Partly cloudy, clear in the evening

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

We've gotten several more inches of rain again this week. I'm starting to get a panicky feeling because my garden is becoming an overgrown jungle. Yesterday morning it stormed heavily most of the morning and in the afternoon when I went out to check on it, my tomatoes looked like this:
I don't know if you can make it out well or not, but these tomatoes (two Cherokee Purple and one Better Boy) are hanging to the left at almost a 45 degree angle. My little wire trellis is no longer able to support the heavy developing fruit, particularly with the soft well-watered ground. These tomatoes are lying on top of my bush beans. It can only get worse as all of these plants have TONS of new blossoms and/or new pea-sized tomatoes starting. So this morning I went out with twine and tied the wire trellis to the fence to try to hold the whole thing upright for the remainder of the season. I need to get more twine and tie it in more spots. Does this look like a hillbilly remedy, or what?

Obviously I need better support for my tomatoes. In the spring when I bought the trellis, I was using my previous experience growing tomatoes as a guide. I've grown tomatoes several times in the past, but they always ended up being kind of spindly without producing much fruit. This wire trellis would surely handle them fine. What I didn't reckon on was the fact that really preparing the soil, protecting the plants from pests, and adding fertilizer once early on (not to mention all the natural watering they've gotten this year) would make them swell with tomatoes. I'm thrilled with the output, but wish I'd bought more sturdy supports. There is always next year. Lesson learned.

Today's local weather:
High temp: 81 F
Low temp: 60 F
Cloudy early becoming mostly sunny, clear tonight.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Harvest and What I've Learned So Far

Here are some of my first harvested produce from the garden. There are two zucchini, three cucumbers, two green onion and one small yellow onion, my first ripe tomato, and my first green bell pepper. Most of these were for a salad for dinner and we ate them fresh from the garden.

I've been thinking lately about how much I've learned just in the last four months about gardening. There have been so many lessons that I think will help me as I plan next year's garden. Here's a list of lessons that come to mind:

* Not all bugs are bad - some bugs are "good guys"
* Organic fertilizer makes a huge difference in the growth of new plants
* When starting seedlings indoors, I need to provide them more space to grow inside (either transplant to bigger pots while still inside or plant in a bigger pot in the first place)
* When starting seedlings indoors, I need a bigger light so the seedlings don't have to stretch (and become spindly) to reach the light
* I need to have a cold frame or some sort of protection to harden off seedlings before setting them out
* Once the seedlings are in the ground and set in, mulch to prevent weeds and control soil moisture and temp
* May and June will require more weeding than July and later because the plants haven't grown enough to block the weeds' sunlight yet
* Flowers in the garden are not just a visual accessory, they are necessary for attracting pollinators
* If pollinators don't come and work for you, do it yourself with a small child's paintbrush
* Plant lettuce early and protect it from heat and sun
* Harvest as soon as the plant is ready and often
* Once a plant is spent, remove it from the garden to keep the garden tidy
* Make sure there is enough space in the garden for the full-grown size of the plants you choose
* Make vertical supports to maximize space, especially with sprawling plants.

Today's local weather:
High temp: 83 F
Low temp: 66 F
Partly cloudy

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I love my garden

I've been playing on the computer this morning. I figured out how to superimpose labels on the photo I took this morning of my garden. I know that I've been posting a lot of pictures, many of them perhaps redundant. I figure this January when temps are hovering around zero and everything is covered with white, I'll sit and browse through all these pictures and remind myself of the garden in full swing.

A few days ago, Martha left a comment on one of my posts asking how big the garden is and what I plan to do with the leftovers. The vegetable garden is 20' X 24'. As big as it is, lately I've been feeling like it isn't big enough. Of course, I live in surburbia so I am lucky to have what I have. I'm not complaining. I find myself already thinking about how I can manage the space better next year. As for leftovers, I'm not sure. I will can and freeze what I can, and I have family nearby. My father used to garden when I was a kid so my parents love homegrown veggies. But they don't garden anymore. Dad has already asked me to give them any extra zucchini when they start getting backed up.

In another comment Molly Day asked about hand pollinating. I first read an article about it in my paper copy of Mother Earth News (sorry, I can't remember which issue, but it was from earlier in 2008). Then I've been reading the gardening forums at They have a forum devoted solely to Pumpkins, Squash, and Gourds. Recently there has been a discussion about hand pollinating and there have been several helpful pictures posted. Basically, a male blossom has a single stamen inside. It looks like the tip of an orange Q-tip and it is covered with a yellowish dust (pollen). Here's a picture I just ran out and took:
A female blossom looks very different inside. It has several whorled tube-like structures called the pistol. Here's a picture (although I apologize that it isn't clearer):
Another way to identify a female blossom is that it always has immature fruit behind it. So the female zucchini has a small zucchini fruit behind it, the pumpkin has a small round yellow ball behind it, the melons have a small green round ball behind it. Here's that same female zucchini blossom with a small unfertilized zucchini behind it:

Today's local weather:
High temp: 85 F
Low temp: 70 F
Humid with chance of thunderstorms this afternoon

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Evening photos

I realized that all the photos I've shared so far have been taken before noon. I think the garden has a very different feel and look in the evening, so last night as we were waiting for it to get dark enough to set off the fireworks I'd bought, I took a few photos. It was about 9:00pm so it was getting dark but it wasn't totally dark for about another hour. The top photo today is a closeup of the nasturtiums and marigolds planted at the base of my celtic birdbath. Isn't it pretty?

Here is the northeast corner of my garden. Those 4-foot tall bushes at the back are tomatoes. There are two cherry tomatoes, two beef heart, and two roma. The big bed in the middle are the pumpkins which I've shared often before. You can also see the row of carrots still growing in the bed that used to house my lettuces. Back by the minibarn is the compost bin and some black-eyed susans.

This next photo is of the northwest corner of the garden. Along the back are more 4-foot tomato plants. These are Cherokee Purples and Better Boy. I have a couple of grape tomato plants just to the right, but they were just outside of the range of the photo. Along the left fence you can see a row of yellow onions and then just to the right of the onions is two rows of bush beans. There's a pine tree to the left of the garden and you can see another one of Jeff's birdfeeders back behind the tomatoes.

I really like this last photo because of its perspective. It is from the rear of the garden (near the birdfeeder in the last photo) looking south toward our house. You can even see our back patio in the background. The foreground of the photo are some of the tomato plants. Behind the tomatoes you can see (from left to right) pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelon, muskmelon, potatoes (which appear to be dying), and spaghetti squash.

Today's local weather:
High temp: 86 F
Low temp: 66 F
Sunny with few clouds or wind

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Lots of rain makes the garden grow

This has got to be a freakish year as far as precipitation goes and I will not expect future years to be so wet. We have gotten so much rain since the end of May. I think I have watered my garden once maybe twice in all that time. Every couple of days it rains...a lot...and fills up my rain gauge!

My first muskmelon today:

Meanwhile, my garden is growing out of control. This is a good thing overall. My zucchini plants are producing a zucchini a day. (And those zucchini are huge now that I have started hand-pollinating them.) My muskmelon and watermelon plants have vined out and taken over their entire bed. My pumpkins have vined and filled their beds. My spaghetti squash is stretching out, filling about 1/3 of their beds so far and this morning had blossoms for the first time. And my tomato plants are becoming too big and heavy for my trellis to support them.

Just one branch of a cherry tomato plant today:

Between the non-stop rain and the holiday, I haven't had much time to work in the garden for a few days. I need to see what can be done to support the tomato plants and I need to get some weeding done. The vining plants that I mentioned early are starting to reach out into the walkways and I'm afraid it won't be long before they swallow up the entire path way around the bed. Eek!

My muskmelon (far left) and baby watermelon (near right) bed today:

The exciting news is that now that the pumpkin vines have grown long enough, there is finally a female blossom opened this morning. I was so excited to finally see it! I used one of the many male blossoms to pollinate it. I hope it is the first of many. With all of these vines taking over my garden, I'd at least like something to show for it!

My pumpkin patch today: