Monday, August 20, 2012

What's Happening in the Garden

harvest 8-18
Whenever I'm puttering around the house or garden, I always think of something interesting I want to write on the blog. Then I get to the blank page and I forget everything. My garden posts lately seem boring--they're either rants about what's going wrong or a boring description of what I'm harvesting or growing. When I sat down to write this post last night, I forgot about all the garden happenings I wanted to write about, and all I could think about was how good the wine was that I was drinking. And how there are still two tacos from Chipotle in the fridge and I wondered if I could just scrape off the huge glob of guacamole and eat that while leaving the tacos behind.

So, I thought our squash plants were completely dead, but one of them surprised us. We harvested this one last juicy zucchini from a plant in the raised bed. It weighs 12 ounces--almost a whole pound! And that big red tomato is the one and only Mortgage Lifter. I'm anxious to taste it. I sprayed an Epsom salt and water mixture to the ML plants to see if they get a late season boost. Will keep you posted...

onion harvest 8-18
Other news--our 2 pound onion harvest! There are still 4 or 5 in the ground and I may leave them there just to see what happens. Hopefully they'll flower and attract some pollinators. I've only seen pictures of onion flowers, so I'd love to have some in my garden. It smells so good and onion-y in the little patch where they're growing. And garden pests have pretty much left them alone, which is very nice.

corn 8-12

Our corn stalk seems to be doing really well. If you remember, we'd purchased 8 little sweet corn plants to make use of the raised bed after the potatoes died, but 7 of them got picked off one by one by the Evil Squirrel. The one corn stalk left seems to have produced two ears, which you can sort of see. (clicking on the pic will take you to my flickr page where I tried to tag the ears). I've never grown corn before and am just really excited to see the plant actually growing. I can't wait to harvest and taste it.

strawberries 8-12
Last of all, the strawberry patch is coming back, just as it did last year. The buds aren't as big as they were in early spring, and I'm not sure if we'll be able to harvest much. (Looking at this picture, I can see that the patch really needs to be weeded!) But it's nice to see these little berries coming back for the end of summer.
That's what's happening in my garden. What's going on in yours?

I'm linking up with Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday event. Check it out to see what other gardeners are harvesting this week.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tomato List

ace55 7-15
I wanted to provide an update on my tomato crop this year.

Side note--This week was Tomato Week for the SSFC Eat Local Challenge. I completely forgot to prepare a tomato dish, but you can click the link to see what others did. I'll be providing an update of my tomato garden instead.

mortgage lifter 7-20
First up, there's no change to my Mortgage Lifter situation. Unfortunately, SESE hasn't reponded to my email request for help yet, but many of you were kind enough to leave me tips and advice on my SOS post from a couple of weeks ago. Thank you all for that! I came back from 4 days in Maine to find that one ML plant was brown and dead. I think spider mites have ravaged it, much like they have some other tomato plants. There's still just the one tomato on the other ML plant. It started blushing so I plucked it to let it ripen inside. I'll let you all know if things improve with these.

chocolate cherries 7-15
Spider mites have also destroyed my Chocolate Cherry plant and the Ace55 tomatoes (top photo above). They've both pretty much stopped producing, but I did harvest few tomatoes from them early this season.

marglobes 7-20
I have two Marglobe tomato plants, with seeds ordered from SESE. Now, unlike the ML, these have been good producers. They are determinate plants and have grown well in containers. The spider mites have avoided them too. The tomatoes are medium sized and have good flavor.

pink girl hybrid vs pink brandywine
{pink girl hybrids on left; pink brandywine heirloom on right with long stem}
 We're growing two varieties of pink tomatoes this year: Pink Brandywine (heirloom) and Pink Girl hybrid (both from Burpee). We bought both of them as plants from the garden center, and I've been curious to see which variety would do better in terms of fruit production and tomato size. The heirloom plant is definitely the winner. The tomatoes are bigger and the plant is more productive. The hybrid tomatoes often have cracks but not so the Brandywine. Hooray for heirlooms! I haven't really noticed a distinct different in taste though.

harvest 8-1
We have several Sweet Snack hybrid tomatoes (also by Burpee). They're the tomatoes shown here in this recent harvest pic. These plants are amazingly productive! The tomatoes aren't sweet, but they go nicely in salads or mixed with avocado with a little salt and olive oil, or with a Caprese salad.

A few growing tips: We typically grow tomatoes in pots, although we have grown some in the ground too. Tomatoes have grown well for us in pots, even the indeterminate varieties, but the vines must be staked. Because they're in containers, the soil often dries out quickly so we do have to water every day during the extreme heat. We mulch and feed them regularly during the growing season.

Our tomatoes and peppers often suffer from blossom end rot, which happens when the plants are lacking calcium. A very easy and inexpensive way to add calcium back to the soil is to put eggshells in the soil, which we do every year. We eat eggs regularly throughout the year, and it's very easy to save and rinse out the eggshells, then crush them and put them around the base of the plant. No blossom end rot problems this year!  [Blossom end rot is a brown spot at the tip of the pepper or bottom of the tomato. If your veggies have this, it's OK to eat the fruit anyway, just chop off the brown part. Add calcium to the soil and your future veggies will come out OK.]

ground cherry 7-24

Finally, I want to talk about my ground cherries! (Similar to gooseberries). I've been excited about growing these since the seeds arrived this winter. I purchased these from SESE and this variety is called Cossack Pineapple. They are similar to tomatillos in that the small round fruit is covered by a husk. They drop to the ground on their own, even though they may still be green, and once they turn that orange-pineapple color, they're ready to eat. Although many have fallen off the plant, none of mine are ripe yet. I do see some of the fruit turning orange with the husk peeling away. The ones that are ripening have dried husks, though in some cases, the fruit has poked through the husk and you can see the green fruit changing color.

The first time I ate ground cherries was last winter in Iceland. I ordered a Nutella crepe in a café, and it came topped with whipped cream with a few ground cherries on top. They were and sweet, and I knew I had to grow them myself. A lot of people make gooseberry jam, but I don't think I have enough for that. I'll probably just snack on them as they are, or put them on top of desserts (I'll have to learn to make crepes!), or maybe I can cook them into pancakes or something. It has been fun growing this new fruit in my garden!

Are you growing tomatoes this year? How is your crop doing? What's your favorite way to eat them?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Harvest Monday, August 13

harvest 7-21
July 21 squash harvest
Wow--is it already August 13??? I realized I haven't posted about my veggie harvests since June, but i've been taking pictures of harvests, so I'm going to talk about it all at once here.

My squash plants have pretty much ended their production cycles, and we yanked out all the dead brown plants over the weekend. This wasn't a good year for squash for us, between the squash bugs, vine borers, and cucumber beetles, but I managed to get a few. We grew zucchini, yellow crookneck, and the pale green one above is Sweet Gourmet (all from Burpee). Back in July when the squash production started to slow down, I thought about starting some new seeds, but time got away from me and then we went to Maine, and now I think it's too late. Ah well, there's always next year!

harvest 7-26
July 26 harvest
Then came the cucumber harvests. Despite the beetles, the cucumber plants have done really well, and did I mention they're growing in containers? Cucumbers grow well in containers, by the way! We used to put up a trellis for the vines to climb, but it got messy, so now we just let the vines hang over the side of the deck. It's a hanging garden! I tried to make tzatziki with these cukes but it came out really runny. I didn't have Greek yogurt on hand, and even though I tried to drain the yogurt and seeded the cukes, it still came out watery. I plan to try again with Greek yogurt. I spent an unreasonable amount of time on the internet yesterday  researching how to make non-runny tzatziki while I watched the Olympics. (I think I'll be trying this version of the recipe next).

harvest 8-1
August 1 harvest
 Right before the Maine trip we pulled every and any vegetable that had any color in it so that the squirrels wouldn't feast on them while we were gone. Clockwise from the top, we harvested cucumbers, habanero peppers, anaheims, jalapeños, pepperoncini, banana peppers, and Sweet Snack tomatoes.

Nothing EVER bothers the peppers, not squirrels, birds, bugs, anything (except for the occasional spider mite). We brought all of these to Maine and grilled the peppers one night when we all cooked out. The tomatoes are Burpee Sweet Snack and the plants have been producing well. Yay!

harvest 8-8
August 8 harvest
As you can see, August is going to be about the tomatoes {knock on wood, cross your fingers, make a wish}, although I'm nowhere near harvesting the amount of tomatoes I have in past year.  (No change on the Mortgage Lifter situation, I'll write a tomato update post later this week). Most exciting--the ground cherries are starting to come in!! They're the little nubbins in the container with husks. (I ordered them from SESE and first wrote about them here, if you'd like to see). We're growing two varieties of pink tomatoes--Burpee Pink Girl hybrids (left, next to the cuke) and Burpee Pink Brandywine (heirloom, single one on the right with the long stem). We bought both as small plants and I want to see which plant produces better.

Not pictured: basil. I've harvested about a cup of basil so far and have added it to sauces, Caprese salads, and pesto.

So far this season I've harvested 11 cucumbers, 4 ½ pounds of squash, just over 2 pounds of peppers, and about 4.3 pounds of tomatoes. I track all my harvests on this tab.

I'm linking up with Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday meme. Check it out to see what other gardeners are harvesting this week.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Eating Local in Maine and Vermont

maine blueberries

My husband and I were in Maine last weekend for a wedding. We'd been to Maine only once before and really like it. We stayed outside of Bangor in a very remote cabin.This part of Maine is pretty rugged, and I'm not outdoorsy at all, but it was so nice to get away from things and disconnect for a few days.

I wasn't really thinking about the eating local challenge, but I realize that I did get lots of local food while we were away.  First there was all the great, fresh seafood. I'm not crazy about shellfish, but my husband had a Maine lobster, and on the way home, we stopped at a road side stand and picked up 2 quarts of Maine blueberries. They're a little smaller than the ones you see at the store and VERY sweet! The best part about these was that there was no one manning the stand. It was in front of someone's house and asked that you leave payment in a little box, totally on the honor system. Actually there were lots of road side stands, with blueberries, of course, but also squash and sweet corn. Who knew that sweet corn grew so well that far north? And several stands weren't manned either, they were just in front of people's houses with boxes for you to deposit your money or make change if you needed. I was so impressed and surprised that people would have that much trust in other people.  I think I need to get out of my cynical part of the country more often!

VT cheese and wine
So it was a 15-hour drive from DC to Maine (painful!) and on the way back home, we decided to break up the drive into two days. We stayed overnight in Burlington. This was my first time in Vermont, despite the fact that I used to live in Boston, and I loved it! It was so pretty, with Lake Champlain right there and a view of the mountains beyond it. We ate a place called Leunig's in the center of town, and there were lots of local wines and cheeses on the menu. We ordered a bottle of Louise Swenson from East Shore Vineyards, located just outside of Burlington. It was similar to a Sauvignon Blanc and went perfectly with the cheese. The cheese was called Chin Clip and the waiter described it as tasting like havarti. It came from a cheesery (?) near Stowe Mountain. Loved it!

I've decided I'm in love with Vermont and want to retire there. They've got wine, cheese, and the Ben & Jerry's factory, which of course we toured. I think it may be heaven.

I'm now finishing off some blueberry pancakes and procrastinating going out to clean up the garden...

I hope you're having a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back From Down East

Source: via Angela on Pinterest

{picture of Bar Harbor, Maine, via Pinterest}

I just got back from a long weekend in Maine. We were there for a family wedding and my husband and I decided to take an extra couple of days and explore Maine and the rest of New England a bit. It was so beautiful, but I didn't get a break from the heat like I thought I would. We were near Bangor and it was hot and muggy there, just like it is here at home. We did spend one afternoon in Bar Harbor, and the nice breeze coming off the water helped cool us off. It was a great trip in a beautiful part of the country.

Thanks to everyone who offered advice or comments on my Mortgage Lifter situation! I haven't finished reading through comments yet but appreciate your help. I'll post more later this week...have LOTS of laundry to do...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mortgage Lifter SOS

mortgage lifter 8-1

mortgage lifter 7-20

Fellow veggie gardeners, have any of you ever grown Mortgage Lifter tomatoes? I think I'm having trouble with mine. Note: Technically they are not the original ML, but a version of the original that I ordered from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange . I emailed SESE my questions, but while I wait to hear back from them, I thought I'd reach out to my online community and see if you can help. These are  supposed to have similar properties as the original, so if you've grown them, I'd love to hear from you.

I have two ML plants. They are both as leafy and lush as the one pictured above, and both have several blossoms. However, one of the plants has not produced a single tomato yet. The other plant has produced only one tomato. Just ONE tomato on that big plant!  Interestingly, the plant with the tomato is also the only one with basil growing next to it. The one with blossoms but no tomatoes has no basil. Coincidence?

Other things to consider: All other tomato plants in my garden have produced fruit and I've even started harvesting tomatoes. They all receive equal amounts of sun and they're watered at the same time every day.

They also have the same type of soil and amendments. We added tomato food a couple of weeks ago. We haven't noticed bug problems either. So why aren't my ML growing tomatoes??

Do the ML need more tomato food than other varieties, are they heavy feeders?
Are they just slower to produce? Do they need a particular kind of fertilizer?

I'm at a loss because I'm having no issues with my other tomato varieties. I purchased from SESE because they're located in the mid-Atlantic and produce seeds that are suited to my part of the country. I'm also growing SESE Marglobe tomatoes and they're doing beautifully.
I was on Burpee's website and reading through some of the ML comments there. Looks like others have had difficult growing them.  Are we doing something wrong or is this just a persnickety variety of tomato?

I appreciate any advice!