Parsley, Rescued

Christmas brought a nice little package from the Mother-In-Law. In it was a lovely December pick-me-up: parsley in a bag. Although that particular mid-winter experiment failed miserably (um, POD forgot about it during the week-long dark germination phase), POD had the foresight not to use all the seeds and planted the remainder on deck in late May.parsley

To great success! After soaking the remaining seeds (about 8-12, if memory serves) in warm water overnight, then planting them in a shady area, and moving them (after germination) into the part-sun portion of the deck extension, they’ve been thriving. Most recently they were the star of this particular pantry meal:

Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Almonds
Serves 4-6

2 cans chick peas, rinsed and drained
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, grated or very finely minced
14 oz plum tomatoes, (canned are fine) drained and chopped
1/8-1/4 tsp. sugar
generous pinch of saffron (40 threads or so)
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 tsp. Kosher or sea salt
1/3 c. toasted almonds OR, even better, marcona almonds
1/4-1/2 c. flatleaf parsley, chopped
2 c. chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lemon, juiced

1) Drain and rinse the chick peas
2) Heat olive oil over medium and saute the onion until it’s soft and nicely golden. About 30 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and sugar, simmer 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat
3) In a mortar, combine the garlic and salt and mix until a smooth garlic paste has formed. Add the saffron, almonds, and parsley to the garlic paste and grind to a thick paste.
4) Add the parsley mixture and chicken (or vegetable stock) to the onions and tomatoes. Return the mixture to a biol over medium-high and simmer until it has reduced to a thick sauce. About 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice to taste.

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.

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.

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

Beach to Deck

Just because you’re growing vegetables, doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun. Or, for that matter, import a little bit of beach beauty into a city garden.

michigan rocks

Here, basil is accented with lake-evoking glass tiles from last summer’s miserable (but successful) bathroom renovation; bathroom tilelong walks on the beach are commemorated by pots bearing herbs and seashells; shattered pottery finds new life with still more basil; iron- and copper-infused rocks, petoskey stones, and granite from the shores of Lake Michigan keep the bachelor buttons company; actual beach glass lends some contrast to the slow-growing bay; and Kalamazoo’s and Battle Creek’s finest brews — the delightful Bell’s and Arcadia —  shellsare honored alongside some beautiful eggplants.

beer capsbroken potterybeach glass

Hello, My Pretties

POD began with visions of gorgeous flowers, cascading from well-designed containers. And, for the first few years, visitors to the little blue deck were greeted by a riot of color.

Then, almost surreptitiously, a basil plant slipped in, then a jalapeno and Mr. Stripey…Now, the little blue deck sports almost entirely vegetables. There are enough flowers to encourage pollination, but great gobs of satisfaction — culinary, environmental and yes, aesthetic satisfaction — can be derived from growing vegetables in containers.

The red lettuce surrounding these spacemaster cucumbers and Minnesota Midget melons provide a nice splash of red against a small sea of soon-to-be towering green.
The red lettuce surrounding these spacemaster cucumbers and Minnesota Midget melons provide a nice splash of red against a small sea of soon-to-be towering green.
This lone glazed terra cotta pot stars tarragon, thyme and lavender. Contrasting greens, varied heights and textures combine to present a pretty striking container.
This lone glazed terra cotta pot stars tarragon, thyme and lavender. Contrasting greens, varied heights and textures combine to present a pretty striking container. (Sorry the picture isn't so hot!)