Saturday, August 30, 2008

More squash talk

Work in the lab continues.

The control squash (the one in its own bed) is thriving and even has a real deal squash on it.

However, I suspect danger lurks deep within its stems. In the last week, I've scraped about 30 eggs off of the vine.

The experimental squash (the one that was abandoned in the wild to be raised by cantaloupes) is still bug free, but that may just be because the moths have been embarrassed to leave their children there -- it's scrawny. Check out this side by side.

In the ground with the cantaloupe:

In the raised bed by itself:

That certainly makes me feel good about my soil mix tough.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What is the deal with my eggplant?

Since my accidental all-night watering about a month ago, the eggplant have really turned on the blossoms. I took the hint and have been trying to keep that bed plenty moist, and have gotten a bit of help from some recent rain.

However, every one of those blossoms so far have ended up on the ground, leaving behind tiny stubs that are absolutely no good in a pork stir fry or breaded and smothered in tomato sauce and melted mozzarella.

So tell me gardeners of the blogosphere, what am I doing wrong? Still too little water? Too much water? Too hot? And whatever it is, is it the same story for my peppers?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Return to the garden

It's amazing what actual rain will do for the garden and for my willingness to go walk around outside taking pictures of it.

This little patch popped up today near the acorn squash. It never ceases to amaze me how suddenly fungi fruit. And seeing this one reminded me of last year's freakish monsoon summer during which I identified probably a dozen different fungi in and around the garden.

The control acorn has seen fit to make its presence known to the local pollinator's union. In the upper left there, you can just see a little female blossom, which I hope gets a chance to get it on before you-know-who starts laying eggs.

The recent rains and perhaps the harvesting of the last two melons on the vine have inspired a fit of blossoming in the cantaloupe patch, with quite a few females like this one. We might just get a few more fruits before it's all done. Seven so far, for those of you keeping score.

And this guy and a few friends decided to poke their heads up this week. They're about the most colorful things growing in the lawn for sure.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

The daily squash report

The acorns are both still kicking, although the one I planted amid the cantaloupes is kind of stunted, probably due to it being planted in barely-amended native soil. The control squash is growing like crazy. I'll have to expound on these confounding factors when I submit my paper to the American Journal of Squash Growin'.

In sad news, the butternut has succumbed to Tha Itis.

That's the sad sight I found when rearranging its stems today. I've been checking daily for moth eggs and have seen none. I had been assuming that its poor growth was due to the brutal heat that has burnt its growing tip to a crisp twice, but it looks like the little bastards snuck in on me.

On a positive note, the Tromboncino planted 3 feet away seems fine so far. This might give some support to Matt's vine vs. bush idea -- my butternut was a bushy variety while the Tromboncino is very viny.

Now, if I can just keep the survivors alive for a couple more weeks, I may be set. And hey, it only got up to 93 today. Cold front!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wrap it up

It's too hot out there to grow anything, so maybe it's time for some reflecting (Thanks for the inspiration, Katie and Lewru.)

This has been my third summer of gardening. It seems like I've read that an organic garden needs three years to really hit its stride. That's three years of regular amending with compost, feeding the soil with organic matter and, of course, not using chemical pesticides or fertilizers. During that time, ostensibly, you're creating a hospitable environment in your soil and garden for the diverse population of microbes, worms and other critters that turn organic matter into plant food.

The summer crops did grow better than ever this year, although I don't think there was any third-year magic involved. This was my first dry summer using the new soaker-hose irrigation system and the first season since I turned up all that native clay into the peat/compost soilless mix.

Yet, I still don't think my garden grows very well. I sure don't think so when I read about random folks' gardens on GardenWeb or when I go see how the pros are growing at the Natural Gardener. I thought that having a garden meant desperately looking for friends and coworkers to take produce off your hands in the summer, but I haven't found that to be the case.

I doubt there's a single magic trick that will turn my garden into the Fertile Crescent (pre-modern times, that is). But maybe there are some clues here:

What worked this year.

  • More clay was a good thing. The raised beds still dry out and water soaks almost straight down from the soaker hoses, but their water-holding capacity is obviously improved.
  • I feel good about my decisive executions of squash and tomatoes. Rather than staring at sad dying plants for weeks, I opted to yank them out as soon as the end was evident.
  • Varieties that will be asked back: Ambrosia cantaloupes have been awesome. And if the squash experiment goes well, I may have to plant them everywhere. Brandywine -- these produced well and were delicious.
  • Leeks are awesome.
What didn't work.
  • Forget the tomato ring. I'm always desperate to find homes for tomato seedlings and have been planting a few in the shady corner around the compost pile. I do get a couple of tomatoes off them, but all in all, I don't think it's worth the effort.
  • Again I didn't give the cream peas much of a chance. I need to plant them earlier, in larger quantity in a real bed.
  • Varieties to pitch: Costoluto Genovese -- not very flavorful and the convoluted shape means it's mostly skin. Principe Borghese -- disappointingly tiny. I think for sauce/drying next time I'm going to go with some hybrid romas. Persimmon -- not its fault, but I wasn't too fond of the tart/salty flavor. Not a big producer either. 
  • The earthtainer tomato actually worked pretty well, but I don't think it's worth the effort of having a separate container that needs hand watering. Perhaps I'll plant it up and pass it along to a garden-less friend.
Things to do differently.
  • Water the hell out of everything. I thought I was watering pretty well, then I went and left the soakers going for 12 hours straight on accident a few weeks ago. Since then, the eggplants have gone crazy with blossoms. I made a similar mistake with the peppers, and now I'm seeing the first blossoms of the year on a couple of them.
  • It's always hard to tell, but I think my feeding regime worked well. I think I might try increasing the amount of initial feeding and remember to do a mid-season side-dressing.
  • Feed the artichokes. The artichokes have always been small and loose and I think maybe they need more food. I may dig them up completely and add a couple of bags of manure and plenty of food to the holes.
  • Be more conscientious with the leek planting. I kind of half-assed these at seeding, and was regretting it when harvesting those delicious leeks. Also, plant more of them.
  • Try sweet potatoes, if I can find space.
  • Plant garlic, lots of it.
  • Plant more onions.
  • GASP! Try a couple of hybrid tomatoes. I'm a big fan of heirlooms, but I also like science. it would be interesting to see how yields compare.
I'm sure there's more, but you people probably have work to do.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Look out, leaves

Dreams really do come true.

When I got home from work on Friday, this device was sitting out on our neighbor's curb.

It's one of them fancy electrical leaf shredders. And it works!

This is really going to change my Fall. I never got around to swiping bagged leaves from my neighbors last year, partly because it was such a pain to shred them with the lawnmower the year before. This year I'm going to be rolling (probably not literally) in shredded oak and pecan leaves. I'll be mulching a foot deep with them next summer, layering them with the kitchen scraps in the compost bin, mixing them in with my cereal for a crunchy, carbohydrate-rich breakfast. It's going to be awesome!

Oh the things that pass for excitement these days.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Round 2

I'm about to kick it with the Scientific Method, 7th-grade style. So get ready.

1. Question: Is there something about cantaloupe plants that cause them to repel Squash Vine Borer moths? If so, could that trait be used to protect other plants from SVB infestation?

2. Research: Cantaloupe is theoretically one of the preferred victims of the Squash Vine Borer. However, cantaloupe in the garden have remained completely untouched by SVBs this year, even as squash have been completely decimated. It has been observed that while the cantaloupe vines look almost identical to squash vines, they tend to exude a strong sweet odor that squash plants lack.

3. Hypothesis: Cantaloupe vines could be used as either a cover or camouflage to prevent SVB moths from laying eggs on susceptible squash plants.

4. Design experiment: Plant a squash plant between two hills and among the spreading vines of cantaloupe plants. Plant a control squash nearby, but away from the cantaloupe. Watch for signs of SVB egg-laying and larvae infestation in both plants.

5. Conduct experiment: Two identical acorn squash plants were purchased on July  25th at the Natural Gardener. While in the store, investigator's wife embarrassed him by trying to take sneaky photo of investigator and John Dromgoole, causing investigator to retreat to the windchime department.

One squash was planted  midway between two established Ambrosia cantaloupe plants in a hole amended with cottonseed meal and kelp meal.

Where's Waldo?

The other squash plant was planted in a similarly-amended hole 5 feet away in a bed that currently has one basil plant in it.

6. Record data:

7. Draw conclusions:

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