Poor Poblano

First, its hermano is murdered. Then, it contracts a thirst for nitrogen. Or, at least that’s what POD’s hoping. Poblano Segundo has been dosed with coffee and a little milk and we’re hoping for the best.

Feed me. Sincerely, Senor Poblano.
Feed me. Sincerely, Senor Poblano.
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Sap Suckers

Because Early Blight just isn’t enough pestilence for one little blue deck to endure, it’s also got a fascinating case of banded winged whiteflies. What the heck?

Looks like it’s become a race: how many tomatoes can one eat before the tomatoes eat themselves? So far over three pounds have made their way into the kitchen and that feels like an enormous success.

What you see here are the eggs and larvae of the whitefly sucking their way through the underside of a chocolate cherry’s leaf. If you look veerrry closely, you’ll see one of the more mature almost-flies taking a stroll along the lower left edge of the leaf.

bandedwinged whitefly, chocolate cherry
banded winged whitefly, chocolate cherry tomato

These pernicious pests are easy to miss. It took a good deal of staring, research, more staring, picking, squinting, still more research, and then magnifying photos to figure it out. These microscopic suckers live on the undersides of the leaves but the top of the leaf appears to have whitish spots, then suddenly wilts and falls off. All that and they transmit a viral diseases, too.

By all accounts, whiteflies are tough to control. The poor chocolate cherry tomato has been moved as far away as possible from the struggling, but producing, Tumbling Tom, Gold Nugget, and Isis.  POD hates the thought of chemicals (because we actually do want to eat what tomatoes can be salvaged) and kinda’ figures these guys are a lost cause. But, the undersides of the leaves are being hit with all we’ve got: soapy water with baking soda, EcoSmart Organic Garden Insect Killer, and Garden Safe Multi-Purpose Garden Insect Killer. Take that.

Yup, it’s Early Blight

The wonderful Colorado State University Extension provides a terrific online tool for diagnosing a myriad of tomato diseases. Take, for example, the following:

Early Blight, Colorado Sate University Extension image
Early Blight, Colorado Sate University Extension image
POD gold nugget, early blight
Early Blight, POD Gold Nugget

So, okay, POD has Early Blight. No surprise there — it’s a recurring theme on deck.

Yeah, you may have thought you were off the hook. Your tomatoes were thriving and then, suddenly, they weren’t.
Symptoms become more obvious during the hotter months, so June and July spell tomato doom in Philly.

Now, what to do?

  • Prune diseased leaves (as POD does oh-so-conscientiously) but keep an eye out for sunburned fruit. If you have to harvest it early, wrap it in newspaper and it’ll ripen in a few days.
  • Since this is a fungus (soil, wind, or seedborne), sanitation is your best best: Remove all diseased plant leaves from the soil, clean your trimming tools, space your containers judiciously, avoid touching healthy leaves with the sick ones, wash hands before touching healthy plants.
  • At the end of the season, clean and dry containers and drainage materials thoroughly.
  • Use fresh potting soil each year. (POD dumps her used dirt on the local community pocket park…is this bad? No vegetables are grown there, the park desperately needs something besides city-provided wood chip mulch, and it truly hurts to throw the soil away.)
  • Good air circulation is key, but the gusty winds on deck do a good job of ensuring this.
  • Water the soil in the morning — avoid watering the leaves. Philly’s cold, rainy May and June didn’t help with these efforts…at all.
  • If the infestation is heavy, use sulfur dust, Neem, or copper spray — it may help protect new leaves from infection.
  • Fertilize! POD could be much more diligent on this count. Next year, POD’s gonna’ stick a calendar on the fridge and use an organic 5-6-5(ish) fertilizer every couple of week.
  • Demonstrate patience: properly harden-off seedlings, transplant when evenings are consistently over 55 degrees, and trim leaves before sinking them into the soil. Refer to Return of the Fungi.

Planting Fever

Each week (or so) we have a few friends over for dinner, and while I was busy stirring POD’s thai chilies into the evening’s much-delayed lemongrass curry, our dear friend began asking all sorts of interesting gardening questions.

Clearly he’s caught the gardening bug. Poor thing.

He came to his addiction late, though, and is wondering what the heck he can still plant now that daylight is on the wane and Philadelphia has turned into the soupy humid swamp that is late July.

So, dear friend, here are a few suggestions for July, who knows, you just may see them sprouting up on deck soon. Let’s give it a whirl together:

Brussels Sprouts (October-December harvest)
Cauliflower
(December-March harvest) — Look for the following varieties: Needles and Purple Cape
Parsnips (November-December harvest)

Check back in a couple of weeks and see what works for August sowing.

Pesto+String Beans+Potatoes+Pasta = Yum

We do love our beans and our basil. Add them together? Heaven.  Here’s a super quick and super simple weekday dinner — a traditional Ligurian dish, actually. Mmmmm. Starchtastic.purple beans

First, butcher your basil. Be ruthless, it’ll grow back bushier and happier than ever. Then, make your favorite pesto.

pesto ingredients chopped

serves 2
Parmesan, grated
1 c. beans, snapped into 1-2″ pieces (we used purple, French, and yellow string beans)
2 medium-sized red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2″ cubes
8 oz tortellini
Pesto

1) Bring a large pot of water to boil. Toss in a bunch of salt.
2) Add potatoes, boil 5 minutes.
3) Add tortellini, boil 2-5 minutes.
4) Add beans, boil 5 minutes (adjust bean cooking time to your personal preference)
5) Drain, toss with pesto, top with cheese. Eat.

Haricots Verts, Sil Vous Plait?

Green beans are a wonderful, wonderful thing. If you’re an urban gardener, odds are you don’t have room forfilet nickel the gorgeous towering beans castles that make one of gardens POD knows so striking. (Well, the beanscrapers and the adjoining poulet maison, really tag-team the eye-catching.)

The perfect solution for roof deck gardens? Filet nickel — a high-yield, short-lived French bush bean. These little suckers do well in two-gallon buckets — two plants in each bucket. They grow quickly and produce in one or two concentrated spurts. It means you’ll have to replant often, but POD tends to have several buckets at different stages of maturity to keep a steady stream of beans flowing into the kitchen.

Since beans are highly susceptible to disease this quick rotation keeps nasties in check, too.

Steak Salad

Oh, the pleasures of climbing the sladder and returning with a bowl full of dinner.

Minus the cow.

steak salad

Serves 2
Got cucumbers? Check. Tomatoes? Check. Lettuce? Check. Swiss Chard? Check. Very par-boiled peas? Check. (Peas courtesy of the farmers’ market.) Fresh, crunchy bread? Check.

Steak and Croutons
1) 60z flat iron steak (a relatively thin cut that will grill quickly) at room temperature.
1b) slice bread into 1/2″ rounds, rub with olive oil and garlic.
2) Blot steak dry with paper towel.
3) Brush with a splodge of olive oil.
4) Rub in some coarse ground black pepper and salt, press it into the meat.
5) Heat your grill as hot as you can. Sear each side for 2-3 minutes, depending on your preferences. Your grill lines should be nice and black.
6) Grill bread until golden toasty — it won’t take long.
7) Remove from heat, rest for 3-4 minutes. Break the bread into bite-size pieces. Slice the steak thinly and arrange over your salad.

Move It and Use It

With limited space for plants on deck, it was time to sacrifice the lovely chard and give the delightful Minnesota Midgets a little more breathing room. Midgets are an excellent choice for container gardens — the soft-ball sized fruits are sweet and juicy and can handle the limited space. Three vines are currently creeping their way up a hand-trussed bamboo trellis.

Minnesota Midget
Minnesota Midget

While it may seem nothing short of insane  to grow muskmelons (cantaloupes) in a five-gallon bucket on a roof deck garden, they worked pretty well last year — despite misfires at the transplanting stage. Melon Growing Tip: if your climate is warm enough,  don’t transplant your melons. They germinate quickly if you wait until the weather has thoroughly warmed.

Thus far, blossoms abound and the deeply-rooted space-hogging chard has been replaced by a shallow-rooted summer lettuce.

Goodbye chard.

the end of chard
the end of chard

Happy Meals

panzanella ingredients

It’s high summer. The tomatoes, cucumber, and basil have hit that wonderful stage: panzanella.

For some of us summer begins in March, when the seed catalogs arrive and the shopping sprees begin. For those same folks, summer begins winding down with the fourth of July’s flowery fireworks. For others, panzanella marks the true beginning of summer. Who’s the optimist/pessimist here? POD or her wonderful garden widower? Discuss.

Either way, panzanella is a happy, happy meal.

Ingredients:
serves 2-3
basil, a nice handful or two, cut into a chiffonade
tomatoes, we’re using a healthy 1/2 lb of tumbling toms and gold nuggets, chopped
2-4 cucumbers, sliced (POD’s first lemon cucumber is pictured above)
1 ball (1/2 lb or so) fresh mozzarella, cubed
leftover crusty bread, a dozen 1/2- 3/4″ slices
3 tbs. high-quality balsamic vinegar
3 tbs. olive oil
salt & pepper

1) Toss the basil, tomatoes,  cucmbers, and mozzarella in a large bowl.
2) Combine your vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a jar. Shake like crazy — until your vinaigrette appears almost creamy.
3) Rub the bread slices with garlic and olive oil. Grill until toasty and golden.
4) Break the bread into bite-sized pieces and add to the vegetables and mozzarella.
5) Pour on the dressing, toss thoroughly, let it rest for 5 minutes, eat.

Pesto alla POD

Here’s a super easy (truly, it is) weekday meal that puts your over-producing herbs and under-producing (but adequate) Tumbling Tom and Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes to good use.

Serves 2 — preparation time appx. 20 minutes

Tumbling Tom and Gold Nugget Cherry Tomatoes
Tumbling Tom and Gold Nugget Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients:
Handful of almonds, lightly toasted (maybe a 1/4 or so) and chopped

1/2 c. fresh herbs (tarragon, rosemary, and thyme), chopped
OR 3/4 c. fresh basil, if you want to be a little more traditional

1 clove garlic, chopped

pinch of red pepper flakes

10-15 cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper

8 oz. spaghettini or capellini

parmigiano-reggiano, grated

Directions
1) Bring a large pot of water to boil. When it boils, add a generous dash or four of salt to the water.
2) While you’re waiting for the water to boil, stick the almonds, herbs (or basil), garlic, and red-pepper flakes in a blender (or a food processor, if you own one) and blend until chunky. Drizzle in about 1/4 c. olive oil until pureed, but still chunky. Add the cherry tomatoes and process until incorporated. The sauce should look a little like a bolognese — thick, rich-looking, and yellowish/reddish/orange. Season with salt and pepper.
3) Boil the pasta. Just before it’s done, scoop about about 3 tbs of the cooking water and dump it into a large bowl. Drain the pasta.
4) Scoop the sauce into the large bowl that contains your cooking water. Stir until smooth and the water is incorporated.
5) Add the hot pasta and toss until it’s coated. Serve. Top with cheese.