Hitting Reset

071305_silverqueengrabThis is, apparently, something of a recurring theme for me lately. As loyal readers know, Plants On Deck recently relocated to East Nashville after over a decade on a 10×10 deck in South Philly, leaving dozens of pots and containers, a couple of orphaned blueberries, and a much-loved but aging and slivered little blue deck behind.

Philly’s unrelenting sun, dead calm 71615_melondays, and the harsh heat reflecting from endless miles of pavement and cheek-by-jowl row homes that felt like brick ovens, along with murderous hot nights and long dry weeks, made it tough going for landless container gardeners like myself. Water had to be hauled up the sladder two to three times per day, and despite the well-intended efforts of neighbors, friends, and house-sitters, returning from vacation always marked the beginning of the end: it was simply impossible to water enough and the ever-present aphids, finding the one patch of green in Pennsport, were unstoppable.

070405_tomatohunt3Nashville is hot. Damn hot. But honestly, the brutal edge that made August in Philly feel like what I imagine Mercury must feel like is largely absent here. (Granted, it’s still July.) And the soil here, it grows stuff! This year, returning from vacation meant harvesting nearly 40 cucumbers, 10 cups of basil, three muskmelons, a quart of plum tomatoes, a generous bunch of chard, a half pound of green beans, and heaps of luscious herbs.

Now, after several delicious Silver Queen centered meals, I’ve yanked the corn and spent beans, rerouted the feral Kentucky Wonder pole beans to the property-line fence and have planted a dozen more Royal Burgundy bush beans and spinach seeds. A second garden in late July may be too much to hope for, but then again, pretty much everything about this patch of land, right down to the arrowhead, has been a surprise.

Speaking of reset, while I recognize that Plants On Deck may no longer be the most appropriate name for these gardening meanderings, it’s here to stay. Put the platter on the deck, lower the needle, and keep on rocking, Music City.

The Pleasures of Chard

062905_chardfordinnerOne of the more reliable crops for POD has always been chard. This year, magically, we managed to plant the perfect amount. Six plants per square foot (for a total of 12 plants) have kept this little family, and our neighbors, comfortably fed with crisp, brilliantly red chard.

And, a bit surprisingly, it’s turned into on of the Hurricane’s favorite veggies. Upon seeing a pile of chard in the Endurer’s motley summer salad, she plucked up a fork and snatched a few off his plate.  Last year’s hit, Swiss chard goma-ae, has been trumped by a couple of new recipes. Enjoy.

A Soup of Lentils, Bacon, and Chard

This recipe is brought to you courtesy of the wonderful and envy-making (the book I would hope to write were I a far better writer, gardener, and cook) Tender, by Nigel Slater. If your passions are evenly divided between your harvest and your snug kitchen, you must add this book to your shelves.  It’s so satisfying to wander out the back door and gather a basket brimming with chard, parsley, and mint. This is a man who looks at his bounty and puts it to noble use.

a large onion
olive oil
garlic — 3 or 4 cloves
unsmoked bacon or pancetta — a good handful, chopped
flat-leaf parsley — a small bunch
chard — a large bunch
Puy or Castelluccio lentils — 1 1/4 cups (250g)
stock or, at a push, water — 4 cups (a liter)
a bay leaf — optional
juice of a lemon
mint — a small bunch

Peel the onion and chop it finely, then let it soften in a deep pan over medium to low heat with a little olive oil. Peel the garlic, slice it thickly, then add to the onion with the chopped bacon or pancetta. Chop the parsley and stir it in.

Wash the card thoroughly, set aside four beautiful stalks and their leaves, then separate the remaining stalks and leaves. Chop the stalks coarsely and set the leaves aside. Add the chopped chard stalks to the onion and bacon and continue cooking.

Wash the lentils thoroughly, then stir them into the onion and bacon. Pour over the stock or water and bring to a boil, skimming off any froth that comes to the surface. you can add a bay leaf or two if you like. Decrease the heat so that the lentils simmer merrily, then almost cover the pot and simmer until they are tender, but far from collapse — about thirty minutes, depending on your lentils. [I find that 20 minutes is usually sufficient for Puy lentils.]

Tear the reserved chard leaves up a bit. Stir them into the soup. Steam the reserved whole leaves and stalks until tender.

Season the soup with salt, black pepper, lemon juice, and the mint leaves, tasting as you go. Ladle the hot soup into warm bowls, add the steamed chard, and serve with more lemon and mint for those who want it.

POD’s Garden Farro Salad

10 ounces farro (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups chicken stock (optional)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces green beans, cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces
8 ounces Swiss chard stems (leaves removed), cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces

1/2 cup pitted black olives
1 medium red pepper, cut into thin strips (about 4 ounces or 1 cup)
2 ounces Parmesan, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
1 small bunch chives, snipped
1 small bunch parsley, chopped

1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of stock and 2 c. water with the farro and salt (the stock is optional, but it adds a nice depth to the dish). Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the farro is almost tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain well (the remaining liquid can be saved for your next batch of farro). Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and chard. Cook for 2 minutes. Transfer the cooked green beans and chard to a bowl of ice water and let cool for 2 minutes. Drain the green beans.

Once the farro has cooled add the green beans, chard, olives, red pepper, Parmesan, and chives. Stir to combine. In a small bowl mix together the sherry vinegar, olive oil, mustard, pepper, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine. Pour the sherry vinaigrette over the farro salad. Toss to combine and serve.

Plants On Deck: July 2015

  

Hey Self: Wenke Wink

Sometimes, I’m a little too Dutch frugal for my own good. Or for the good of my garden, for that matter.

hurricane plantsBack in May, when the lovely gentleman from the Gardens of Babylon dropped off $10-$15 worth of starts (from hometown nursery back in Southwest Michigan, Wenke’s) along with the shipment of soil, my little transplanted East Nashvillian (and admittedly cheapskate) heart skipped a beat.  I felt like I’d won a kismet lottery: free veggies! From Kalamazoo to Nashville! Clearly it was meant to be.

No, the corn wasn’t the variety I’d hoped to plant, nor were the 0623_dillcaterpillarcucumbers and peppers. Dill? Who needs dill? Oh, what the heck, I’ll find room. Lemongrass? Hmm, that could be useful. At any rate, the three bush cucumbers would only take up one measly square each and, so really, what could go wrong?

Well, those “bush cucumbers” weren’t really bush and two of them weren’t really cucumbers at all. Like I said, who needs dill? The bottleneck gourd is long gone, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull perfectly healthy Athena muskmelons (Gah! Dutch strikes again.) And now, it’s far too late. The garden belongs to them.

PLANTS ON DECK 2015: Hey Self, revised and updated

0623_mrstripeyMr. Stripey tomato (1 plant/2 sf)

  • As of 6/23 the plants look pretty good (some yellowing along the bottom) and we have some blooms, but no fruits
  • Since mid-May he’s been fertilized, organically, twice a month
  • The two Mr. S’s planted along the south lawn are growing similarly.

Roma Tomato and Red Cherry (front of house, planted 4/25)roma tomato

  • They are just starting to go gangbusters; however, I’m a little worried that as the days grow shorter (morning sun only — in shade by 1:00 at summer solstice), their fruits will be cut short
  • Plant more yellow cherry and pear tomatoes

bush zucchini (3 plants/4 sf)bush zucchini

  • I love these guys! And so does the Hurricane. Looks like we have a new veggie vying for green bean’s top spot
  • Their location, in the south west corner, works well and although they’re cheating into the neighboring square a little, 3 plants/4 sf appear to be working thus far
  • Plant more

basil (4 plants/1 sf)

  • I mean, it’s cool to have basil leaves the size of your hand, but giant basil it is so not our favorite. It’s pretty and yes, gigantic, but it doesn’t pack the punch we like our basil to deliver
  • These got squashed in the first row, SW quadrant, between the tomato and the bush cucumber that isn’t, so lack of sun is slowing them down
  • Several were planted at the front of the house and have been transplanted to the herb garden where there is more sun.
  • Plant more, plant differently.

marigolds (8 plants/2 sf):

  • These French dwarfs didn’t stand a chance. Next year big, tall African marigolds need to keep the tomatoes company
  • Plant more flowers, not just marigolds. Need butterflies and bees

bush cucumber (3 plants/3 sf 1 mystery, full-size)

  • It is impossible to plant too crazed cucumbermany cucumbers — the Hurricane will eat them the day they ripen.
  • Yes, Endurer, you said this in April and again in May. When I thought I had planted three Spacemasters
  • I did not
  • Fortunately, rather than pitch any, I planted three along the south side of the house. (Go D-team!)
  • Plant more — bush varieties for the raised bed and trailing varieties for the south wall.

chard [seed] (16-24ish/2 sf)0623_eatenchard

  • Figure out what’s eating the chard — it’s not us and diatomaceous earth ain’t doing much
  • Designate one bed to be planted largely with spring vegetables and stick lotsa’ chard and spinach in it
  • This year I staggered the seeds —  8 plants maturing at one time is not sufficient, 16 should do the trick
  • Plant more

romaine lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • These were terrific!steak caesar
  • We enjoyed the outer leaves on sandwiches for weeks and the grand finale — featuring Porter Road Butcher’s steak — Caesar was sublime
  • They are done and gone by early/mid June
  • Planted in the third row, these were sheltered in the front by the crazed cucumber and in the back by towering Silver Queen. An excellent location, actually. By the time they had finished, the zucchini, creeping cucurbit, and sprawling Purple Royalty were happy to take over the real estate.
  • Plant more (both in the spring bed and in the summer bed as described above)

butter leaf lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • Meh
  • Plant more heat-tolerant varieties

purple royalty bush beans [seeds] (18/3 sf)0623_purpleroyalty

  • That staggered planting thing? Well, it’s a good idea in theory, but in this house, we need at least 18 plants/3 SF  sowed at the same time to yield enough for a meal
  • I thought that bush beans were pretty compact, it turns out they’re not. Not really. These princes have sprawled over the end of the bed, broken in the wind and choked out the peppers
  • Plant more, do not plant in the front row; try the second/third rows

Kentucky Wonder pole beans [seeds] ) (12/2 sf)Kentucky Wonder

  • Too soon to tell, but they have shot right off the ends of their 4′ poles and are smothering the 6’+ Silver Queen
  • Plant in the back row!

red bell pepper (3 plants/3sf)

Silver Queen corn (12 plants/4 sf)

  • It’s too soon to say
  • Consider planting along the chain-link fence?

muskmelon 2 4 plants/4 sf):athena cantelope

  • Oops
  • NE corner seems to be a great location
  • One musk melon should do the trick

Babies!

baby purple royalty  bush beansbaby zucchini with blossombaby cucumberdead cucumber beetleGardener+Baby Vegetables = Dead Cucumber Beetles

Peppers To The Front!

sun-starved peppersIn the “Hey, Self” department: peppers to the front! It’s been an educational month since the plants hit the beds. In just a month, the wee starts and teeny seeds have all but exploded.

The Kentucky Wonder pole beans exceeded their 5′ poles and are climbing amongst the Silver Queen corn, the so-called bush cucumbers (freebies from Gardens of Babylon) are anything but bushy (but they’re spreading like kudzu), Athena melons are creeping across the lawn (not sure how that corner’s getting mowed), a lush (but largely flowerless) Mr. Stripy gives me both hope and pause, and the bush beans are nearly toppling over their own weight.

Here’s the thing: as beans are generally anemic, stunted, doomed plants here at Plants On Deck, I planted the bush variety to the front of the bed, thinking the strong peppers, located just behind, would soar above them, taking the light they needed.

Evidently, these Kentucky Wonders and Purple Royals are a little better suited to Tennessee’s soil than to Philadelphia’s and to raised bed gardens than to gallon buckets. Their vigorous growth has far out-paced that of the peppers, leaving them entirely in the dark.

Move it or lose it, I figured, and just yesterday I yanked the peppers, redistributing them into the sunny herb garden. The three empty squares have already been seeded with spinach, because hey, why not?bell pepper plant

Hey, Self: Shelter From the Storm, Bush Bean Edition

After too many years of failed experiments with beans, I was delighted to plant several dozen seeds into the inaugural raised bed. Bush, Pole, and Black-Eyed Peas — all of them! The Hurricane loves snapping beans nearly as much as eating them, and sitting on the porch, snapping beans, has to be one of my fondest childhood gardening memories.

Strangely, they all seemed pretty happy and it looked like they just might make it onto the porch and onto a plate. Until a raging thunderstorm blew through, leaving all sorts of house-related drainage problems in its wake as well as cruelly snapping bush bean limbs from their trunks.

royal purple bush beans after the stormThese Royalty Purple bush beans are scattered throughout the 4×8 raised bed and were planted on a 15-day staggered schedule. They’re packed in pretty tight, six to a square foot, to provide support for one another and shade for the pods on hot summer days. Still, the winds whipped a little too hard for the earliest seeded Royals, taking up real estate at the south/front edge of the bed.

So, Hey Self: next year remember to plant the bush beans along the penultimate/northern row of the bed. Allowing sturdier, shorter plants to offer some shelter from the storm. Besides, it’s good form to rotate from year-to-year.

 

Shattered Glass

g.i. joe, beheadedThis East Nashville yard is a minefield of shattered glass (not to mention dozens of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers, pull-tab Miller Lite empties, SlimFast cans, ten-penny nails, horse shoes, and one creepy vintage GI Joe head.)

Fortunately, the only blood shed has been my own. Thus far. And since the Hurricane is pretty obsessive about her Elsa and Anna flip flops, I hope it stays that way.

Except for bug guts.

The raised beds are crawling with ants and I’ve already squashed the first sprinkling of unidentified pink insect eggs and smattering of aphids. Cockroaches skitter along the front path and a slug has made its way across the Endurer’s foot. I squeal at the former, he at the latter.

So Plants On Deck is out for blood. Bug blood.

Shockingly, food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) has never been a bug-killer of choice for me. Largely because I couldn’t find it in Philly’s garden shops. But hey, guess what? Those hours wandering the fluorescent aisles of the Home Depot and Lowes haven’t been wasted. Along with the 120 pounds of topsoil, two bags of mulch, paver sand and about a ton of  paver base, DE has been acquired!

Rain is likely, so I’ll hold off on applying the fossilized diatom exoskeletons until things dry out, but bugs, your days are numbered. And although food, pet, and kid safe, these prehistoric miracles are like ground glass to creepy-crawlers and slice into little bug bellies, killing ’em dead.

Plants On Deck: June 2015

plants on deck june 2015

Plants On Deck, June 2015

Hello, Stranger

white cucurbit blossomGardening is a pleasure. Often, a surprising pleasure. Some in the good way, some in the not-so-good-way.

For example, this garden is growing! Like really, really growing. The beans are enthusiastically clinging to their poles, wobbly chard grows stronger each day, bright green tomato plants with infant fruits fill cages, knee-high corn is a reality, zucchini blossoms brighten the corner of the bed, and man, those melons and cucumbers are climbing!

Like really, really climbing. I’ve been keeping  close eye on one of the aforementioned cucumbers, dear readers, and one of the freebies (labeled “bush cucumber”) just wasn’t looking all that cucumber-y to me. Let alone, bush-y.

You see, I know cucumbers fairly well. They are among the Hurricane’s (and my) favorite garden treats. I’ve grown over a dozen varieties over the years and, well, I’ve never encountered a white blossom on  a cucumber before. And the leaves, oh my god, Becky, they’re so big.mystery cucurbit leaves

My first thought, “Cool! I’ve never seen a white blossoming cucumber before!”

My second thought, “Uh oh. I’ve never seen a white blossoming cucumber before.”

A little Googling not only brought me to the delightfully named Michigourders Gourd Guild site, but also confirmed my suspicions that the healthy, thriving cucurbit with lovely white flowers is…a GOURD. While a former Michigander I might be, I’ll never be a Michigourder.

It’s gone, leaving more room for the functional cucurbits. At least, we hope so.