Eight Weeks and Growing

Brussels Sprouting
Brussels Sprouting

The Brussels sprout experiment continues. These guys are exactly two months old and appear to be thriving. Whether or not they’ll get around to producing, only time will tell.

Generally Zone 7 gardeners plant sprouts in March for an August harvest, but the flavor benefits from cooler temps and honestly, during the summer months, container space is just too precious to hand over to a single 3-4″ stalk of sprouting heads.

The seedlings exposed to the most unobstructed sun (like this one here) are certainly doing the best. The seedling tucked among the flourishing parsnips is about half this guy’s size.

Worms!

Okay, so, POD was recently inspired by a Graceful Gardens-designed kitchen garden. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s already October; but this fledgling garden was stuffed with beautiful herbs and greens — making me realize that those empty five-gallon buckets, sitting all forlorn-looking at the corner of the deck, were really such a waste.

So, off to the South Philly Lowes POD goes. I know, shame on me.

Two kale sets have now joined the thriving chard, parsnips, lettuce and the trooper poblano.

Of course, six, count ’em six, little squishy worms had to be picked off the undersides of the holey, half-devoured leaves before they could be popped into the waiting buckets.

Serves me right. Be forewarned.

It Tastes Better When You Share

Each year POD grows two containers of basil — a quantity that pretty successfully sustains the garlic-breathing monsters who live below the deck.

Sweet, Sweet Basil
Sweet, Sweet Basil

Something that’s nearly as enjoyable as the wonderful husband’s pesto, is sharing bags and bags of extra basil with fellow monsters. This year’s basil wasn’t quite as prolific as it was in previous years, but a co-worker was just bestowed with bag chock-full of green goodness.

What a terrific thing, vicarious pesto: the same joy (almost) without any of the accompanying garlic-consciousness.

A recipe for growing basil:

  • Some like it hot — basil thrives in full sun and likes the heat. With the waning sunlight, POD expects basil’s day’s are limited.
  • Heavy harvesting — to keep your basil full and bushy, harvest it frequently.
  • No flowers for you — do your best to prevent the plant from flowering. If it does flower, pinch them off. You want all the plant’s energy devoted to leaves, not flowers.
  • Watered, not wet — basil plants are thirsty buggers, but they hate perpetually soggy soil. Well-drained pots are crucial.
  • Feed me — like every other plant in the garden, basil needs to be fertilized to produce those deep green tasty leaves.

Persnickety Parsnips

POD’s figuring things out as we grow along, but parsnips, like any other veggie, seem to be a little fussy. But, so far, so good — every one of the javelins has germinated and they’re sprouting right along.

  • Rich, deep, well-fertilized soil
  • Go light on the nitrogen, though — evidently they don’t like it
  • Full flavor develops when the roots have been exposed to near-freezing temperatures
  • POD’s hopes for a Thanksgiving crop may not pan out — perhaps more like a February harvest, just when they’ll be most needed
  • Full sun/partial shade okay

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.

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.

Sowing New Seeds

Usually, POD feels a twinge of sadness this time of year. Okay, more than a twinge. Yes, the deck is prospering and yes, the farmers’ markets are flowing, and yes, the kitchen is humming with fresh produce, but the end is near. And it hurts.

What makes POD happy? Seeds. So this year, instead of resigning myself to the end of an era, POD’s expanding. Who knows how it’ll turn out, but it seems worth a shot. Unlike the rest of the produce on the 2009 little blue deck, this is new uncharted territory.

Thanks to the now-dead Django restaurant, a Philly favorite until the chef/owners relocated to the ‘burbs and left a pale imitation in their wake, POD and her lovely husband discovered that Brussels sprouts don’t totally suck. Add some butter and bacon and you’re good to go.

These seeds (selected because they’re Franklin Hybrids — and POD is a Philly garden, after all) from Territorial Seed Company, are enjoying some rich, firmly packed organic soil and plenty of indoor sunlight and stable temps. They should germinate in a couple of weeks or so. Check back for progress reports. These sprouts are also apparently quick to mature — a big considerations this time of year.

There’s even enough to share with a certain Philadelphia City Paper Editor.

Here’s hoping for a mild winter and a bonus crop.

brussels sprout seeds
brussels sprout seeds