Not Jack’s Beanstalk

Des Bagnols Bean, iron deficiency
Anemic Des Bagnol Bean

So this year all of POD’s greenery was planted in fancy organic soils, enjoyed weekly alternating feedings of fish emulsion and seaweed fertilizer, worm castings, and Garden Tone organic fertilizer and was enshrouded in seaweed-enriched mulch. Not a drop of Miracle Gro sullied its soil.

And yet, without a doubt, this was the most troublesome year this gardener has ever experienced. The bug issues have been well-documented (four stink bugs were squished today) but more needs to be said about nutrient deficiencies.

Blauhide Pole Bean, nutrient deficiencyIn the hopes of growing great quantities of beans (Des Bagnols, purple beans, and Blauhide pole beans) were sowed and only a few handfuls were harvested. Preliminary research indicates that nutrient deficiencies are to blame. Likely iron, nitrogen, and/or manganese.

Evidently beans like slightly acidic soil (5.8-6.3) and POD’s committed to springing for a pH tester next year.  Remind me what’s wrong with Miracle-Gro again? Shower POD with tips, dear readers, please?


August “Progress”, AKA: Reboot

August Plants on DeckSo last weekend, in a fit of frustration, a bunch of plants on deck were yanked and became seeds on deck. The Boothby Blonde cucumber, Black Cherry and Isis Candy tomatoes, and all the beans were ditched (more on that later).

In their place cooler weather crops have been oh-so-optimistically planted. August Plants on DeckPlants on Deck 2.0 features fresh lettuce, Franklin Hybrid Brussels Sprouts (technically the wrong planting season, but they almost worked last year), Javelin Hybrid parsnips, Erbette and Charlotte chard, Romanesco, French Breakfast and Long Scarlet radishes (which have already poked their heads above ground), and Winterbor kale.

Champ is still blooming and Mr. Stripey is showing signs of disease but he’s still largely green, so he gets a pass for now. Aphids continue their iron-fisted reign (and four adult brown marmorated stink bugs were killed yesterday) so next up on the hit list are the besieged True Lemon and the newly-breached Charentais.

Arugula and Spinach Gnocchi

arugula spinach gnocchiBetween last week’s spinach and this week’s arugula, courtesy of the Greensgrow CSA, a half pound of Champ’s tomatoes (Gold Nugget), and some POD oregano, a pretty wonderful gnocchi landed on the table this week.

You’ll want to blanch the spinach and arugula the night before you plan on making this meal. Gnocchi inspired by Marc Vetri, courtesy of il viaggio di vetri.

Arugula and Spinach Gnocchi with Marinated Tomatoes, serves 2

Ingredients for Gnocchi:
1/2 lb. spinach
1/2 lb. arugula
1/2 egg (be creative, strain off half the whites and half the yolk and you’re good to go)
1/4 c. flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1/4 c. bread crumbs
pepper to taste

  1. The night before serving, bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the spinach and blanch for 2 minutes. Add the arugula to the pot and blanch for an additional 1-2 minutes.
  2. Drain the spinach and arugula and dump it into an ice water bath. The shocking will preserve the super green color.
  3. Once the greens have cooled, drain them again and then process them in a food processor or blender for 3-4 minutes until very, very smooth. You can add a couple tablespoons of the blanching liquid if you need to. The consistency should be pretty mushy — like a wet batter.
  4. Place the spinach and gnocchi puree in a strainer and set over a bowl. Refrigerate overnight to drain off the excess moisture. This step is annoying, but critical — if you don’t you’ll have heavy spinach and arugula bombs rather than pillowy gnocchi.
  5. The next day, when you’re ready to make the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  6. Place the spinach and arugula batter in large bowl and add the egg, flour, breadcrumbs, cheese, and pepper. Mix well, your hands are your best tool.
  7. Scoop the mixture into a sandwich bag, seal, and snip off a bottom corner edge of the bag. (Unless, of course, you have a pastry bag handy).
  8. Squeeze out little gnocchi-to-bes that are about 3/4″ in diameter onto a well-floured surface. Gently roll the balls around the flour until they’re evenly dusted.
  9. Drop the balls into the boiling water and cook for about 2 minutes.
  10. Scoop them out and cover with the marinated tomatoes (see below).

Ingredients for Tomatoes:
8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
a generous splash of balsamic vinegar
1 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. chopped fresh oregano
pepper to taste

  1. Combine ingredients and allow to marinate for 3-6 hours.
  2. Top gnocchi with tomato mixture.
  3. Pour a glass of wine. Eat.

It’s Been a Tough Summer

whitefly damage to tomato
Whitefly Destruction

In case the recent string of posts about garden pests hasn’t tipped you off, it’s been a tough year for the plants on deck. So tough that it’s too depressing to post the monthly update photo. So tough that the only remaining cherry tomato is the Gold Nugget, heretofore referred to as Champ. On the bright side, it seems that blights and fungi were largely avoided this year.

Anyone who says container gardeners don’t need to worry about bugs live  a charmed life.

Let’s see, a random nutrient deficiency finally slaughtered the Isis Candy (maybe copper, maybe iron, maybe potassium, maybe all of the above) and whiteflies took out the pampered Black Cherry (pictured left). Next year I’ll make up a batch of yellow sticky traps and see if that doesn’t do the trick. Aphids have taken over and samples of the brown marmorated stink bug have been collected. And oh, yeah, it’s been hot, hot, hot and dry, dry, dry.

And guess what? The rescued Black Brandywine isn’t looking so good.  Its calcium deficiency may be terminal but it’s got one lonely fruit that I’m unwilling to sacrifice just yet.

Whitefly close-up
Whitefly close-up

Each year I resist the urge to buy a pH kit to test each container’s soil as it seems just a little too garden-geeky, but let’s face it, the little blue deck has had a blog devoted to it for over a year. If that ain’t geekdom, what is?

Now, all hopes are pinned on the currently thriving Greensgrow Mr. Stripey. Cross your fingers, please.

Aphids Suck

Aphid Damage
Boothby Blonde, RIP

A few weeks ago, POD’s minder was busy trying not to contract skin cancer on the shores of Delaware’s beaches. A few hours north of those repeated SPF 50 applications, POD’s cucurbits were busy acquiring an impressive collection of aphids.

While the diluted soapy solution and aggressive pruning killed off hundreds of the little you-know-whaters, it was too late. The damage had been done. It doesn’t help that these suckers can produce live offspring without mating.

Aphid Mummies, Dead Boothby Cucumber
Aphids 1, Boothy Blonde 0

When aphids take over, their little needle noses suck the life juice right outta’ a plant. When they’re really well-fed, which these were, they produce honeydew, a sweet secretion that ants love. Fun, fun. Here’s hoping that the three ladybugs that have taken up house on the lemon cucumber eat well.

May POD’s Boothby Blonde and Minnesota Midget rest in peace. They’ve been yanked. Fortunately, the Boothby had produced vigorously and three Midgets were rescued before meeting their maker met its end.