Wide Open Spaces

And the planning for a (possibly) deck-free urban garden is on!

Plants On Deck has left the East Coast for temperate Tennessee. While it’s too soon to plant in earnest, it’s never too soon to start planning.

The Hurricane has already started her wish list and it’s a good one: pear trees, peach trees, strawberries, grapes, and blueberries. That’s a lot of wishful thinking, but Nashville offers a bit more space to experiment than the little blue deck did.

For now, here’s a list of  plants native to Nashville, courtesy of Nashville Natives.

So Not Fried Green Tomatoes

FullSizeRenderWhich are gross.

A couple of weeks before the first below-freezing evening struck (um, last night) Plants On Deck managed to harvest a few cups of nice, green (and mostly green) cherry tomatoes.

But what to do with them? This simple, but correct, recipe from the NYT was absolutely perfect. And, assuming you season the lamb chops the night before, you’re looking at an honest-to-goodness weeknight meal.  GreenSliced

Garden of Neglect, Part II

101814_aphidcauliflowerBack in early August, 12 ears of the On Deck hybrid were harvested from the 18 tall and proud stalks. Not all 12 were edible, others yielded just a few rows of snaggle-toothed kernels, but a few were perfect little cobs of sweet corn. All told, 72714_silkytressesthe palm-sized hybrid cobs yielded just enough corn to augment a tasty batch of guacamole.

Not necessarily a horticultural miracle, no, but they were awfully fun to watch and it’s pretty gratifying to have 7814_kneehighsome knee-high by the Fourth of July action going on in an urban container garden.

All of this is to say: POD had three (aphids had totally claimed the honey bun melon) large pots ready for the taking. As this is real estate that would have in prior years was occupied by tomatoes and disappointing green beans, it was like having a blank canvas upon which to plant!

As luck would have it, Greensgrow had just sprouted cauliflower sets and POD snapped up a bunch of them before the loopers that live on the farm could infest them.

Pots scrubbed, fresh dirt acquired, plants planted.

Now, nearly three months later, loopers are happy campers and aphids are sucking away.

Here’s hoping our gardening by neglect yields a couple heads of cauliflower…yup, that’s looper poop. Organic fertilizing at its finest.


The Garden of Neglect

General Lee CucumberYears ago, when this garden minder was a newly-minted employee at an off-campus study program, she noted a colleague’s withered, brown, desiccated and extremely dead cactus.

“How on earth do you kill a cactus and why do you keep that thing?” queried the naïve childless young woman.

“I don’t want to give my students the wrong idea,” answered the wise mother of three.

As the pages of this blog testify, until recently, this tender was an involved and nurturing gardener. Dead leaves were snipped, pots were rotated to capitalize on the sun (or shade), water was hauled up the sladder to combat Philly’s brutal summers, compost was applied in an effort to fertilize organically, aphids were futilely combated, loopers were fed to nearby sparrows, and ailing plants were ruthlessly culled.

This year, however, the Hurricane took up a lot of energy. And Plants On Deck, while neglected, thrived. Aphids were ignored and withered leaves clung to the woody vines, but the aforementioned Hurricane was sent off to preschool with lunches stuffed with juicy cherry tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers (bitter skins removed). Endless containers of Swiss chard goma-ae were consumed. Crisp peppers were roasted and mountains of herbed chicken were devoured.

It’s October now. And the Hurricane had a cucumber sandwich for lunch yesterday.

Dear Aphids: POD Hates You

plants on deck aphids and waspsAs one of the only vegetable gardens in Pennsport, POD provides quite the haven for local pests. Each year POD struggles, and ultimately fails, to keep these suckers in check.

This year POD pulled out the stops with mulch, preventative organic sprays, squishing, leaf-soaking, and ultimately, chemical sprays. Can’t you tell? That is one messed up melon. One of these days, when this gardener has a garden that extends beyond pots, we’ll set some ladybugs free. (In the meantime, we’ll settle for not killing them.)

But for those gardeners just starting out, here’s an encyclopedia of aphid control options:

Downy Mildew?

It has been a while since Plants On Deck descended into the university extension wormhole. Not because there haven’t been reasons to, but because it’s a great big time suck that can usually be summarized thusly: your plants are sick. There is no cure. They will die. (Therefore, do we really want to know what those spots on the blueberry leaves are?)72714_scabbycukesBut once again, just as the Supremo, Speedy Green, and General Lee cucumbers are producing, their leaves are yellowing, spotting, and withering. It’s a good thing that a good half dozen fruits have been harvested already (testers like the Supremo best — light, citrusy, great crunch) and another dozen are on the vine, because things aren’t looking too promising.

While mildew isn’t readily apparent, POD’s plants looks suspiciously like the ones described on Clemson’s and the University of Minnesota’s extensions as having downy mildew.

They’re sick. There is no cure. They will die.

Eating Virtuously: Swiss Chard Goma-ae

062014_chardfaceLet’s hear it for Swiss chard. Each year, Plants On Deck makes a vow to plant enough of something, anything, to enjoy a real, substantial yield. Tomatoes, beans, peppers and cucumbers have all had their shots — to varying success.  This year, POD set expectations shockingly low and let Swiss chard have a run at the title.

And it’s working. Two 24″ pots, and a couple dozen plants easily feeds a family of three that likes to eat. Chard is a pretty versatile beast — think spinach with a kick — and can be prepared any number of ways. (Oh, hey, and it’s crazy healthy. It’s good for hair, eyes, has vitamins K, A, and C, and it’s a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and fiber. Yup, it cures cancer, too. Eh, probably not, but it’s all anti-oxidant and stuff.)

This is at least the fourth cutting (fresh seedlings are in the works), so the stalks are pretty tough and the leaves have a clear bite to them, but this preparation, lovingly honed by the Endurer, covers a multitude of sins.

72614_chardmolehillSwiss Chard Goma-ae
makes 1-2 c.

20-30 oz Swiss chard (or spinach), tough stem removed
2tbs sesame seeds, toasted
2tsp raw sugar
2tsp soy sauce

Blanch chard for a few minutes in a big pot of unsalted water. The leaves should be bright and tender. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, grind the toasted sesame seeds and sugar together. Whisk in soy sauce. Drain the chard, wring it out in a kitchen towel, chop it up a little bit, mix in the goma-ae (sesame sauce). Eat virtuously.

Here’s a couple more Swiss chard recipes from the POD archives:

Swiss chard and preserved lemons
Garlicky chard pasta



July 2014

plants out front July 2014platns on deck 2014

This Can’t Be Good

61514buuuuugsIt’s ugly, spiky, and mean-looking. And sitting on a leaf.

But wait. Don’t squish it. Like, you know, someone did. Because it’s a good bug! A lady bug!

Future bug killers, visit BugGuide first. Or, perhaps, Plants on Deck. Oops.

Patience, Little Hurricane


Amma! A baby pepper! Can I eat it right now? Right now!