Garden Party

Cooler weather has resulted in a quiet week in the garden. Lots of weeding and watering. Not much else needed except to enjoy the sunflowers and zinnias in their glory.

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Tomato Insanity

We’ve always had a pretty good crop of tomatoes. I like them on salad and Jim just likes them. Some years, when we haven’t grown our own, I’ve depended on friends to supply them. In Kansas, you always know when the tomatoes are ripening because bags of them appear in workplaces and neighborhoods. My guess is it’s the same all over. Tomatoes just aren’t that difficult to grow.

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Last year, Jim developed some kind of allergic reaction to them and I decided not to eat “nightshade” vegetables for a while. For those who may not know, nightshade vegetables include potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, and a variety of others including paprika and tomatatillos. Nightshade fruits and vegetables belong to the Solanum genus. So, for example, the ‘official’ name for tomatoes is Solanum lycopersicum. While controversial, it’s claimed that nightshade veggies may play a role in inflammation.

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Be that as it may, what’s a garden without a tomato plant? Or so I asked myself this past spring. Running through Walmart one day, I picked up two little tomato plants and decided that would suffice.

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The first indication that we were in trouble came when I went out to water one morning and found that one of the plants had toppled over, despite its cage. What a mess. Wish I’d snapped a photo but, truthfully, I was more concerned about my precious plant! Jim managed to tie it upright and we hoped for the best. We needn’t have worried.

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These two tomato plants, as you can see, have turned into monster plants. Just this morning we harvested a full basket – and my freezer is already crammed with tomatoes harvested earlier this week. I found an article from University of Nebraska that gave me a more-or-less easy approach to freezing tomatoes. Works well, so far, although I think the proof will be in the sauce!

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Pasta, anyone?

The Triumph of Hope Over Experience

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Okay – Samuel Johnson was talking about second marriages. I’m talking about trees.

When we moved here in 2000, my Jim looked at the driveway and envisioned a line of trees on both sides. Sort of like every other driveway in Miami County, but yes, it’s a pretty look.

We went out and bought some not-cheap maples, which did nicely the first year. Then they died. The following year, we found some maples for $6 each, bought and planted them. They did very well for a couple of years. Then all but one died and that last tree is hanging on by a thread.

In talking to master gardener friends, I learned I might have better luck with native trees. My friend Lenora tempted me to drive to the annual Miami County Extension Master Gardeners’ plant sale by promising to save me three native tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera).

“Tree” is a bit of a misnomer. Actually, I hesitate to call them saplings. They looked like plants so when I bought them last April, I put them in pots. They grew like weeds.

After reading a bit about tulip trees – also called yellow poplar – I decided to plant them in raised rounds. Everything that I’ve put in a raised bed has thrived here, including a blue spruce. Almost everything planted directly in the ground has died. Maybe these trees will grow. Or not die.

The National Forest Service says that tulip trees top out at about 80 feet. They grow approximately 1-2 feet a year. So let’s see. When these trees are mature, assuming they grow 2 feet a year, I will be about 105.

The triumph of hope over experience!

Wha’ Zat?

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When my son, Gordon, was a toddler, he spent his days pointing at things and asking, “Wha’ zat?” And I spent my days telling him the names of things. (Apologies to Gordon who is now in his forties.) Today, I find myself asking my gardener friends, “Wha’ zat?”

I guess that makes me a toddler gardener.

Today I noticed that I had a new plant “growing” along the foundation of my garden shed. I’d never seen it before. I took a photo, thinking to post here and ask all my grown-up gardener friends, “Wha’ zat?” But when I looked at the enlarged photo, the stem seemed oddly familiar.

Yesterday I potted some purslane to hang in my kitchen window. I know I trimmed one of the plants and brushed it off onto the ground. Now I have blooms in a couple of places near the shed. If it is purslane, I wonder if it will volunteer to grow there…

Gardening with Kids

We had a great time with the grand kids in the garden all last week. We watered, we pulled a few weeds – after careful identification! And we ate a few potatoes that we took from the ground instead of the grocery store! Then we went to see some other gardens.

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Here they are looking for frogs in one of the Arboretum ponds. We did ask a volunteer whether it was okay to look. I imagine if we had caught anything it would have been a quick snapshot and release!

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My granddaughter, Maddie, had a tour of Long Lips Farm (thank you Lenora Larson!). Fascinated by insects, Maddie holds a caterpillar as Lenora explains the many different types of butterflies found in her garden, which is certified by the North American Butterfly Association and Monarch Watch.

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Our major “garden art” project for the week – painting PVC pipe and adding an old, freshly painted street lamp finial. Here they are with grandpa who did most of the work. Thank you, honey!

My granddaughter’s comment? “These don’t look anything like flowers!” Oh well! It’s art.

Giant Zucchini

We have the middle school grand kids this week, ages 8 and 11. We’re doing lots of gardening type things – digging potatoes, walking the Arboretum, visiting Deanna Rose Farmstead, creating yard art and terrariums. So not a lot of time for Blogging.

But Jim and I took advantage of an early morning walk out to the garden to see what was growing. Good grief – we found a giant zucchini squash. This grew to what I believe is an inedible – that’s inedible, not incredible – size overnight! We’ll cut it later and if it looks halfway decent, we’ll grill it along with our burgers. Maybe the kids will eat a veggie?

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Cantaloupe!

One of my favorite meals is half a cantaloupe with a scoop of cottage cheese. Even though a favorite, I haven’t indulged for years. I’m lactose intolerant, so nix the cottage cheese. And I’ve been ‘off’ cantaloupe since the listeria deaths in 2011.

Recently, I discovered that Lactaid – a company that manufactures a lactose free milk – now makes a 1 percent lactose free cottage cheese. Heaven! And pretty good melons have been showing up in the grocery stores this year. Not as good as you’d expect to find at the Farmer’s Market, but pretty good.

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Yummy!

As I put together plans for this year’s garden, I thought to grow some melons, both cantaloupe and watermelon. The seeds for both melons were a total bust. Nothing grew. But one day, as I was running through Walmart looking for shampoo, I spied both cantaloupe and watermelon plants. I bought two of the first and one of the second.

Today I have three cantaloupe vines – one of my seeds actually ‘took’ – and the one watermelon. They take up a huge amount of space in one of my raised beds, along with two rows of Delicata squash plants.

Thanks to the manure put down last fall and our recent, just-in-the-nick-of-time seven inches of rain, I have a profusion of squash and melon vines that have outgrown the confines of my raised bed.

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Now comes the part that I’m learning is somewhat problematic for all my vegetables. How and when to harvest.

I recall about four or five years ago, I went to a party given by some golf buddy friends of my husband. They had an enormous garden with lovely looking melons, each on its own little blanket. And indeed, the instructions I’ve found online suggest placing the fruit on some sort of cover over the soil – either paper or organic mulch.

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Fortunately, this is the one bed where I put down cypress mulch.

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As of today, my cantaloupe plants have blossomed, but I don’t know whether these are male or female flowers. According to http://www.organicgardening.com, only the female flowers produce fruit. And while I may have many female flowers, each vine will produce only three or four melons. The rest are supposed to send nutrients back to the vines.

Again, according to what I’ve read, I need to soon give the plants a drink of compost tea. You can find a recipe at http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/compost-tea.

And gardeners living in zones colder than Zone 7 are supposed to pick off flowers and smaller fruits after ‘midsummer.’

Midsummer. When is that exactly? According to most articles I’ve read, midsummer is the summer solstice, which has come and gone without fruits per se. And I’m uncertain which flowers to cull. Hmmm… I did read one article that said that midsummer was July 5. I guess I’ll be waiting to see if I have fruit in the next couple of weeks.

As for harvesting, my research has led to similarly vague instructions: “The stem of a vine-ripened fruit should break cleanly with no pressure at all on the stem; just picking up the fruit should be sufficient.” I imagine myself lifting the fruit up from the ground every day once I think it’s big enough just to see if it breaks off.

Next week I’m going to a class on bugs … excuse me, insects and other pests. I hope I can sit through it. I have to admit that I skipped the copious research on possible melon bugs.

Gross. But okay, baby steps…