Parsnips Peeping

parnsipsA few weeks ago, in a fit of Chicken Little-like panic, fall garden planning began. This is a first for POD — usually the containers get retired when the last of the straggling cucumbers make their way onto a salad and the herbs have been hacked down and transformed into indoor pets.

Not this year, though! POD has visions of making the Thanksgiving trek to Michigan with armfuls of parsnips, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and maybe even some last-gasp chard. (There’s no hope that the wee parmex carrots will amount to much, but hey, it’s worth a shot.)

Food for Thought

Each year POD ties to walk the delicate line between trying new things, planting a nice variety of edibles, and planting enough of any given vegetable to make a meal. When your garden is a 10×10 roof deck and a bunch of pots, it makes things tricky.

And, every year, some things work and some things don’t. This year’s experiments included four cherry tomato plants versus the standard planting of two traditional plants. Good thing, too. The chocolate cherry got tossed before it could offer much to the table but the remaining three were pretty vigorous producers (despite an impressive case of early blight). Producing enough, in fact, for an almost-weekly dinner starring or, at the very least, co-starring sweet homegrown tomatoes.

The year’s biggest regret, howbeansever, is the inconsistent stream of green (or purple) beans. Next to tomatoes, beans are simply one of the summer’s greatest gifts and next year POD really needs to do something about this. Filet nickel bush beans are pretty marvelous: they’re tasty and prolific, but because of their short life span they take a lot of dedication to keep an even yield on the table. Two rotating pots (with a total of three plants) simply couldn’t come close to keeping up with the demand.

Next year a bucket of pole beans may appear on deck. Perhaps McCaslan, Dade, Kentucky Wonder, or Blue Lake. Your suggestions are welcome…

Diagnostics

scientific diagnosis
scientific diagnosis

Well, the lovely Minnesota Midget seems to have come down with a little something.

If a variety of online diagnostic tools can be trusted, it looks like Minnie may have contracted a case of ulocladium leaf spot. Which may be even more fun to say than Walla Walla, Washington. Certainly more fun alternaria leaf spot, which is another candidate.

At any rate, there’s not a whole lot than can be done at this point except treat the affected plants with a fungicide (copper sprays are recommended by some but POD’s trying out organicide) and snipping off affected leaves.

To avoid spotty leaves, gardeners should NOT:

  • water the leaves of cucumber and melon plants.
  • dash outside and run their fingers through the rain-dampened leaves.

To avoid spotty leaves, gardeners should:

  • water in the morning, before the hours of high heat.
  • water the soil directly.
  • fertilize regularly.
  • use organic fungicides regularly.
  • use clean, unaffected soil for future plants.

A Handful of Melons

Conventional wisdom (and most gardeners) will tell you that melons aren’t great candidates for containers. And it’s true, most melons aren’t. If you do your homework carefully,  however, you may surprise yourself with a nice crop of sweet, tasty muskmelons. Look for dwarf or bush varieties and vines that aren’t likely to exceed 3-4 feet.

Minnesota Midget
Minnesota Midget

What you see here is a fast-ripening Minnesota Midget. These little guys grow to about 4-6 inches in diameter (about 1/2 lb) and pretty much fall right off the vine when they’re ripe. Two plants are happily (mostly) thriving in this five-gallon bucket and earlier in the season, to maximize growing space, a nice batch of chard was keeping them company.

These cantaloupes are just about perfect for roof deck gardeners: they ripen much more quickly than traditional melons, the plants are relatively compact, and best of all, are resistant to diseases and wilt. With Philly’s hot summers, heat-loving melons really do make a lot of sense.

POD has tried both direct seeding and transplanting and has found that direct seeding works best in zone 7. Patiently wait until early summer and temperatures have warmed (65 degrees or so) and then stick ’em in the ground. Make sure you build a trellis so you can train the plant to grow upward, conserving precious growing space. Alas, with the approach of fall, the little blue deck’s hours of direct sunlight are rapidly dwindling so melons that mature in 70-90 days are also critical requirements.

We’ve enjoyed two years of sweet little Midgets and it’s time to consider alternatives for next year:

Emerald Green, 2-3 lbs, 70-90 days
Green Nutmeg, 2-3 lbs, 70-80 days
Golden Jenny, 3/4-1 lb, 85 days (insect resistant)
Petit Gris de Rennes, 2-3 lbs, 80-85 days
Sakata’s Sweet, 1-2 lbs, 85-95 days
Sleeping Beauty 1/2-1lb, 85 days
Savor, 1-2 lbs, 70-80 days (disease resistant)

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds seem to have an excellent selection of seeds.

Sprouts Sprouting!

These six Brussels Sprout seeds were planted a little over a week ago. Already they’re reaching out to grab every ray of sunlight they can. POD knows the feeling.

brussels sprouts seedlings in teeny peat pots
brussels sprout seedlings in teeny peat pots

The little peat seeding containers are really quite wonderful. They can be purchased pretty inexpensively and they make transplanting incredibly simple. Many are even made of recycled material or contain organic fertilizers. Come planting time, all you need to do is rip the bottom out (so the roots can grow more freely) and drop the entire container into the soil, making sure to cover the lip of the pot with a layer of soil. Best of all, they’re biodegradable.

Obviously, they’re probably a little more difficult for folks who plant crops in quantities larger than oh, say three plants, but for container gardeners, they’re a great way to go. They’re gaping holes of thirst, though. You’ll need to check on your wee seedlings daily to make sure they’re getting adequate water.

Toys!

Nothing says summer quite like nice sugar cone packed with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Or coffee ice cream. Or caramel ice cream. Or strawberry ice cream. Or…well, you get the idea.

About once every other summer or so, POD’s family would dust off the hand-churning antique ice cream maker, stuff the bucket full of ice and rock salt and crank until their arms screamed for mercy. That same maker moved from Michigan to Philly with POD and somehow, sadly, hasn’t been touched since. Okay, maybe once. But that’s it.

Finally, we dropped the $30 for a small electric ice cream maker.  Since then, cholesterol levels have skyrocketed and the freezer has been stuffed with salted caramel, mint chocolate chip (minus the food coloring), and strawberry ice cream.

What does this have to do with plants on deck? Mint.

mint ice cream base
mint ice cream base

Gas Out

“Thus, in one sense, the taste of chlorine is a welcome taste. The presence of chlorine means that the water has been kept fresh.” So sayeth The Philadelphia Water Department.

Maybe so, but a nice fresh Brita filter can’t hurt.

But POD is not about to filter every gallon of water that makes its way up the medieval pulley to the little blue deck. Instead, try filling your plant-watering buckets with dish-washing rinse water (not the super dirty, super soapy stuff, mind you, just the final rinse) and let the buckets set for a day or two. The chlorine evaporates, leaving slightly used virtuously recycled water in its wake.

What’s a Determinate?

determinate vs. indeterminate tomatoesIf you ignore the yellowing, early blighted leaves (which were snipped moments after this photo was snapped), you’ll see a still-producing Isis Candy cherry tomato towering above its neighboring Gold Nugget.

It towers because it’s an indeterminate — that is, it keeps going and growing and going. Until diseases finally fell is, that is. The Gold Nugget, one the other hand, has about had its day. It has reached its determined height, produced a couple pounds of tomatoes, and is about to expire.

The determinate vs. indeterminate is an important consideration for gardeners, especially those with limited space. Like, for instance, this particular roof deck gardener.

This year, POD selected two indeterminate varieties (the late Chocolate Cherry and the ailing Isis Candy) and two determinate varieties (Gold Nugget and Tumbling Tom). Because POD’s seduced by the idea of an ever-growing, ever-producing tomato, the larger and ungangly and space-hogging indeterminate is quite fetching. However, because disease is a constant lurking threat, the short(er)-lived and compact determinate has its merits.