My Beautiful Thing

After years of disappointing yields, POD is swimming (or drowning) in garden-fresh produce. What a deliciously beautiful thing.

Harvest TimeMy days as a container gardener were rewarding, for sure. I loved pushing seeds into the soil with the Hurricane’s tiny fingers assisting, we loved watching those tender shoots push through the deluxe organic-by-the-bag soil, and we loved June. We loved how healthy and vibrant the young plants looked, we loved the possibilities and the promise, and we loved having the only garden on the block. Heck, one of the only gardens in all of Pennsport.

For all the pleasure, those days were also pretty demoralizing. What I didn’t love so much? July and August. And aphids. Given the scarcity of delectable gardens in the neighborhood, each and every pest and squirrel came a’callin’ each and every year. Still, we managed to eke out enough of a harvest to come back for more, year after year, but only barely.

And on the menu for this week?

And on the shopping list? Lamb and Surryano and not much else.

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Hey Self: Wenke Wink

Sometimes, I’m a little too Dutch frugal for my own good. Or for the good of my garden, for that matter.

hurricane plantsBack in May, when the lovely gentleman from the Gardens of Babylon dropped off $10-$15 worth of starts (from hometown nursery back in Southwest Michigan, Wenke’s) along with the shipment of soil, my little transplanted East Nashvillian (and admittedly cheapskate) heart skipped a beat.  I felt like I’d won a kismet lottery: free veggies! From Kalamazoo to Nashville! Clearly it was meant to be.

No, the corn wasn’t the variety I’d hoped to plant, nor were the 0623_dillcaterpillarcucumbers and peppers. Dill? Who needs dill? Oh, what the heck, I’ll find room. Lemongrass? Hmm, that could be useful. At any rate, the three bush cucumbers would only take up one measly square each and, so really, what could go wrong?

Well, those “bush cucumbers” weren’t really bush and two of them weren’t really cucumbers at all. Like I said, who needs dill? The bottleneck gourd is long gone, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull perfectly healthy Athena muskmelons (Gah! Dutch strikes again.) And now, it’s far too late. The garden belongs to them.

PLANTS ON DECK 2015: Hey Self, revised and updated

0623_mrstripeyMr. Stripey tomato (1 plant/2 sf)

  • As of 6/23 the plants look pretty good (some yellowing along the bottom) and we have some blooms, but no fruits
  • Since mid-May he’s been fertilized, organically, twice a month
  • The two Mr. S’s planted along the south lawn are growing similarly.

Roma Tomato and Red Cherry (front of house, planted 4/25)roma tomato

  • They are just starting to go gangbusters; however, I’m a little worried that as the days grow shorter (morning sun only — in shade by 1:00 at summer solstice), their fruits will be cut short
  • Plant more yellow cherry and pear tomatoes

bush zucchini (3 plants/4 sf)bush zucchini

  • I love these guys! And so does the Hurricane. Looks like we have a new veggie vying for green bean’s top spot
  • Their location, in the south west corner, works well and although they’re cheating into the neighboring square a little, 3 plants/4 sf appear to be working thus far
  • Plant more

basil (4 plants/1 sf)

  • I mean, it’s cool to have basil leaves the size of your hand, but giant basil it is so not our favorite. It’s pretty and yes, gigantic, but it doesn’t pack the punch we like our basil to deliver
  • These got squashed in the first row, SW quadrant, between the tomato and the bush cucumber that isn’t, so lack of sun is slowing them down
  • Several were planted at the front of the house and have been transplanted to the herb garden where there is more sun.
  • Plant more, plant differently.

marigolds (8 plants/2 sf):

  • These French dwarfs didn’t stand a chance. Next year big, tall African marigolds need to keep the tomatoes company
  • Plant more flowers, not just marigolds. Need butterflies and bees

bush cucumber (3 plants/3 sf 1 mystery, full-size)

  • It is impossible to plant too crazed cucumbermany cucumbers — the Hurricane will eat them the day they ripen.
  • Yes, Endurer, you said this in April and again in May. When I thought I had planted three Spacemasters
  • I did not
  • Fortunately, rather than pitch any, I planted three along the south side of the house. (Go D-team!)
  • Plant more — bush varieties for the raised bed and trailing varieties for the south wall.

chard [seed] (16-24ish/2 sf)0623_eatenchard

  • Figure out what’s eating the chard — it’s not us and diatomaceous earth ain’t doing much
  • Designate one bed to be planted largely with spring vegetables and stick lotsa’ chard and spinach in it
  • This year I staggered the seeds —  8 plants maturing at one time is not sufficient, 16 should do the trick
  • Plant more

romaine lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • These were terrific!steak caesar
  • We enjoyed the outer leaves on sandwiches for weeks and the grand finale — featuring Porter Road Butcher’s steak — Caesar was sublime
  • They are done and gone by early/mid June
  • Planted in the third row, these were sheltered in the front by the crazed cucumber and in the back by towering Silver Queen. An excellent location, actually. By the time they had finished, the zucchini, creeping cucurbit, and sprawling Purple Royalty were happy to take over the real estate.
  • Plant more (both in the spring bed and in the summer bed as described above)

butter leaf lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • Meh
  • Plant more heat-tolerant varieties

purple royalty bush beans [seeds] (18/3 sf)0623_purpleroyalty

  • That staggered planting thing? Well, it’s a good idea in theory, but in this house, we need at least 18 plants/3 SF  sowed at the same time to yield enough for a meal
  • I thought that bush beans were pretty compact, it turns out they’re not. Not really. These princes have sprawled over the end of the bed, broken in the wind and choked out the peppers
  • Plant more, do not plant in the front row; try the second/third rows

Kentucky Wonder pole beans [seeds] ) (12/2 sf)Kentucky Wonder

  • Too soon to tell, but they have shot right off the ends of their 4′ poles and are smothering the 6’+ Silver Queen
  • Plant in the back row!

red bell pepper (3 plants/3sf)

Silver Queen corn (12 plants/4 sf)

  • It’s too soon to say
  • Consider planting along the chain-link fence?

muskmelon 2 4 plants/4 sf):athena cantelope

  • Oops
  • NE corner seems to be a great location
  • One musk melon should do the trick

Hello, Stranger

white cucurbit blossomGardening is a pleasure. Often, a surprising pleasure. Some in the good way, some in the not-so-good-way.

For example, this garden is growing! Like really, really growing. The beans are enthusiastically clinging to their poles, wobbly chard grows stronger each day, bright green tomato plants with infant fruits fill cages, knee-high corn is a reality, zucchini blossoms brighten the corner of the bed, and man, those melons and cucumbers are climbing!

Like really, really climbing. I’ve been keeping  close eye on one of the aforementioned cucumbers, dear readers, and one of the freebies (labeled “bush cucumber”) just wasn’t looking all that cucumber-y to me. Let alone, bush-y.

You see, I know cucumbers fairly well. They are among the Hurricane’s (and my) favorite garden treats. I’ve grown over a dozen varieties over the years and, well, I’ve never encountered a white blossom on  a cucumber before. And the leaves, oh my god, Becky, they’re so big.mystery cucurbit leaves

My first thought, “Cool! I’ve never seen a white blossoming cucumber before!”

My second thought, “Uh oh. I’ve never seen a white blossoming cucumber before.”

A little Googling not only brought me to the delightfully named Michigourders Gourd Guild site, but also confirmed my suspicions that the healthy, thriving cucurbit with lovely white flowers is…a GOURD. While a former Michigander I might be, I’ll never be a Michigourder.

It’s gone, leaving more room for the functional cucurbits. At least, we hope so.

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.

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.)

POD’s Popping!

On Deck Burpee HybridThe On Deck corn emerged a few days ago, the Honey Bun muskmelon peeked yesterday, and as of today the Speedy Green and Supremo cucumbers are starting to shift a little soil. Still waiting on that General Lee, but that’s it.

Thanks to aggressive squirrels, sparrows, and cats with full bladders (the only wildlife we see in South Philly, really) tender seedlings have been protected with yards and yards of deer netting. Handy stuff for urban container gardeners…

Plants On Deck 2014 has arrived!

Seeds, Seeds, Plants, and Seeds: Cucurbits

Cucumbers, oh, cucumbers. How we love thee.

  • Speedy Green Hybrid: Maybe a few cukes can be harvested in 42 days? Say, before the aphids attack? This is a biggie (12 x 60), so one per pot.
  • Supremo Hybrid: A little less huge, but still big (15 x 36). Prolific and disease resistant, thankyouverymuch.
  • General Lee: Yup, POD’s Minder is of the Dukes of Hazzard generation. Yup, Bo and Luke? Crushable. The Charger? Still wouldn’t kick it out of my garage (if I had one) for leaking oil 3_6_14genlee(a paint job, perhaps, yes). A disease-resistant cucumber named the General Lee? Yup. Sold. Thanks, Organic Gardening, for pointing this gynoecious paradox out!

Muskmelons! Such luciousness. And so many exciting new hybrids to try! (Side note: heirlooms are great, but will have to wait for the POD’s next, much-larger, raised-bed garden. Thanks for the courage, Michael Tortorello)

  • Honey Bun Hybrid: “Honey Bun is a real bush cantaloupe that is well suited for the smaller garden. The little melons are 5″ across with deep orange flesh and honey-sweet flavor. Each vine will produce 3 or 4 fruits.” That just about covers it.

Seeds, Seeds, Plants, and Seeds: Corn & Peppers

March happens. And for years and years it appears, Plants On Deck feels the urge to buy everything this time each year. Then, weeks and sometimes months later, when the precious cargo arrives, the reasons behind the carefully-researched purchases have been long forgotten.

So this year, we’re writing it down. Bit by bit. It’s an all-new crew, so there’s lots to remember. And hey, that was the original point of this here note-to-self blog.

Corn: Yes, corn. Like, on the cob. In a pot. So. Excited. POD’s managed to do okay with veggies, considering the space limitations imposed by a 10 x 10 mixed-sun (too much, then too little) deck and a 8 x 4 sun-struck expanse of concrete and exhaust. There’s this smell, though, that only a nice row of fresh corn stalks can deliver. It’s the smell of my mother’s garden. And, as she reminded me this morning, my grandfather’s garden.

It smells like home.

  • On Deck: Okay, so the name also spoke to POD. But get this, the 4-5′ tall stalks can produce two to three 7-8″ ears. 9 seeds per 24″ container.  (Soil temp at least 55 degrees.) Breathe deep.

Peppers: Peppers are well-like at POD, but we’ve never planted all that many or paid that much attention to them. Now that we’ve given up on green beans (sigh), there’s an extra container begging for some color.

  • Tweety: yellow (naturally), small fruits, compact plants, early-maturing, and “prolific”
  • Sweet Cherry: see above, but red.