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

62114pepper

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

 

 

Honey Buns and Cukes

honey bun canteloupe blossomThe cucurbits are looking good, my friends. Although POD still needs to get a few bright blossoms on deck to attract pollinators, decorate the mulch with aluminum foil to repel aphids, spritz with POD’s special sauce to ward off mildews and bugs, and snip a tomato cage to turn it into a cucumber trellis. Soon.

June 2014

62114plantsondeckLooking good…Just in time for a nice long vacation.

62114plantsoutfront

Paltry Peas

6_16_14punypeasOh, how we love English shell peas. This year was going to be the year that that an honest-to-goodness yield would be enjoyed. Approximately 15 of the 20 peas ‘n a pot plants germinated, but the plants were so teeny tiny (they rose to the dizzying height of 3-4″ — which is puny, even for a dwarf) that each produced one one or two pods, with 2-5 peas each. Which means we harvested about a 1/4 cup of peas.

Boo. Here’s the thing: if you can believe it, they may have been, GASP, over-watered. Excessive hydration is rarely a probably for POD, but the Hurricane helper happens to love hoses and water. So you know, things happen. For future reference, though, here’s a handy how-to from the University of Minnesota.

6_16_14peaharvestThese little guys were planted in mid-April and harvested this week. Which, thankfully, lined up perfectly with the bag o’ peas from Greensgrow’s CSA. Which mean’s the Endurer enjoyed a lovely Father’s Day dinner of seared scallops with uber locally-grown herbs, peas with fresh-picked mint, and lemon strawberry bars for dessert.

POD loves me. POD loves me not.

To thin or not to thin? File this under “not complaining,” but all five (that’s five apiece) General Lee, Speedy Green, and Supremo cucumbers and Honey Bun cantaloupe seeds germinated. They’ve already been brutally culled to two per pot, but is further thinning called for?52814 Cucumber

Yes.

In part, this post is serving as a self-imposed “do it right” mandate. You see, it kills this gardener to off perfectly good plants. But history (and horticultural extension after extension) suggests limiting tomatoes, cantaloupe and cucumbers to one per 5-gallon bucket.

And, um, POD’s 2014 cucumbers aren’t tame, container-friendly bush varieties; they’re everything-resistant hybrids with fun names.

The General Lee pictured here is housed in a 5- or 6-gallon pot. Cousins Coy, Vance, and Daisy have already bit it and when 3-5 true leaves are in evidence (one can be seen budding here), Luke will join them. Leaving Bo behind the wheel, where he belongs.

Thinning tip: never pull a cucurbit from the ground — its fragile root systems may be damaged — but instead, use your fingernails to snip the stem just below the soil line.

(The Honey Bun gets a little pass: two seeds will remain in the 20-gallon Rubbermaid bin.)