Shattered Glass

g.i. joe, beheadedThis East Nashville yard is a minefield of shattered glass (not to mention dozens of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers, pull-tab Miller Lite empties, SlimFast cans, ten-penny nails, horse shoes, and one creepy vintage GI Joe head.)

Fortunately, the only blood shed has been my own. Thus far. And since the Hurricane is pretty obsessive about her Elsa and Anna flip flops, I hope it stays that way.

Except for bug guts.

The raised beds are crawling with ants and I’ve already squashed the first sprinkling of unidentified pink insect eggs and smattering of aphids. Cockroaches skitter along the front path and a slug has made its way across the Endurer’s foot. I squeal at the former, he at the latter.

So Plants On Deck is out for blood. Bug blood.

Shockingly, food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) has never been a bug-killer of choice for me. Largely because I couldn’t find it in Philly’s garden shops. But hey, guess what? Those hours wandering the fluorescent aisles of the Home Depot and Lowes haven’t been wasted. Along with the 120 pounds of topsoil, two bags of mulch, paver sand and about a ton of  paver base, DE has been acquired!

Rain is likely, so I’ll hold off on applying the fossilized diatom exoskeletons until things dry out, but bugs, your days are numbered. And although food, pet, and kid safe, these prehistoric miracles are like ground glass to creepy-crawlers and slice into little bug bellies, killing ’em dead.

Seeds, Seeds, Plants, and Seeds: Tomatoes

Tomatoes: After a string of planted-too-soon failures (both self- and nursery-started), we’re hoping these high-tech hybrids hit the sweet spot, timing-wise. Since Burpee’s home base is only 30 miles north of POD’s sladder, we’re optimistic. (And playing it safe, per last year’s notes, POD just fired off a note to Burpee’s asking for a later shipping date. [Let’s hear it for Burpee’s — permission granted!])

  • Honey Delight: yellow (the Hurricane’s favorite), “prolific” (the main Minder’s favorite). And 2″, 4-oz. fruits seems just about the perfect balance between cherries and traditional tomatoes
  • Sunchocola: POD tends to have decent luck with cherry tomatoes, and this “smoky,” “disease-resistant” hybrid sounds like a winner
  • Early Girl, Bush: The earlier the better. July 4, you say? Perfect. Also? Determinate, small, container-friendly with “multiple disease resistances.”

Give Us Strength

imageIt’s been nearly three weeks since the peas were planted and yesterday’s 14-inches of polar vortex-induced snowfall, and today’s single digit temps, made these little guys a welcomed site. Nothing like a little splash of green against a wintery backdrop to perk a couple of gals up.

At this point, the ultimate success or failure  of the pea shoots experiment is irrelevant. They make us happy.

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.

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.