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The domino effect caused by the wind

Our vegetable garden is getting off to a rough start this year. We’ve gone from too much water, to no water at all, to NOW too much wind!

The tops of several trees and many fallen branches surround my car.

The tops of several trees and many fallen branches surround my car.

Boy was that a wild storm we had on Friday night. I’m working from home today because the nursery (like so many other businesses and homes in the area) has no power and no phones. We are very lucky in that sense. With temperatures forecast to be in the mid to upper 90’s all week, we are extremely fortunate to have power and water at our house.

The storm that hit our immediate area came with damaging wind and a little lightning but no rain which was very surprising. The wind came all at once, like someone turned on a switch; first it was calm and the next moment there was this tremendous roar of wind and stuff outside started flying around and hitting the windows of the house. It was very scary. I was sure that something was going to come crashing through the big picture window in the breakfast room where we had just sat down to dinner.  We quickly moved to a safer location! I was watching our wind gauge on the weather station and the wind speed was a steady 15-25mph with a peak gust at 49mph – and our wind gauge is sort of protected by the house! I’m sure there were gusts much stronger than that. The constant heavy winds kept up for quite a while but gradually subsided around 11pm.

This big oak tree broke off about 20 feet up.

The oak tree broke off where the hollow was. I’ll miss seeing the squirrels popping in and out of the hole.

Saturday morning, there were branches down everywhere – BIG branches which, upon closer inspection, turned out not to be branches at all but the tops of 3 of our huge oaks in front of the house. How they managed to miss my car, our shed, and our house is beyond me. Many people in the area weren’t so lucky. In addition, one of our favorite oaks right along the driveway broke right off about 20 feet up. This tree was a favorite because right about where it broke (and probably why it broke) was a hole that was the home to many gray squirrels over the years. Hopefully no one was home at the time! This too fell in the only direction that wasn’t lined up with a car, shed or house!

The wind storm has definitely reduced the canopy cover for our shade garden in front of the house but plants are adaptable and most of them will eventually adjust to the increased amount of sunlight they will now receive.

Only one tomato was broken off. It should recover.

Only one tomato was broken off. It should form a new leader.

I was kind of afraid to wander down to the vegetable garden. I was a little worried about how the trellises had fared but thought they would probably be okay because they are pretty open and don’t have much wind resistance but you never know.

Well … I forgot about the cucumber trellises. The new ones Eric made last year had welded wire fencing for the cucumbers to climb on. These apparently caught the wind and caused a domino effect in the garden! Three were flattened and two were leaning over. Oh my!

At first I thought all the tomatoes were going to be broken up and destroyed but again we lucked out. Only one of the 39 I planted was broken off, the others were simply bent over but not broken. I guess that is one benefit of getting our garden in so late this year. Most of the tomatoes weren’t very tall and therefore hadn’t been tied to the trellises yet. The wooden trellises just straddled the tomato plants and even the pepper plants that were planted on the other side. Phew!

Now they can't blow over - I hope!

Now they can’t blow over – I hope!

Eric reset the trellises and anchored them securely with some short fence posts so they can’t blow over again. We’ll have to remember to do this every year from now on – just in case. I tied the tomatoes so they were upright again and we were back in business. The rest of the garden was fine – luckily the pole beans were still short!

Now we just need some rain – slow and steady!

Until my next garden drama – Happy Gardening!

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A bountiful harvest

Last Sunday afternoon, we harvested the last of the vegetables from the garden (except for some carrots that I’m covering with straw and leaving to sweeten up for later harvest). There wasn’t much left out there but I dug the last of the potatoes and Eric harvested the last of the squash from his Three Sisters garden – and boy, were there loads of butternut squash. Yum!

Butternut squash vines grow prolifically on the edge of the Three Sisters garden.

Butternut squash vines grow prolifically on the edge of the Three Sisters garden.

As I mentioned in a couple of my summer posts, the Three Sisters garden did very well and we are definitely planning to plant it again next season but with a few modifications based on our experiences from this year. For one thing, the only squash plants that really grew well and produced were the ones on the periphery of the garden – the others just didn’t get enough light. To remedy this, Eric has decided to space the corn mounds a bit further apart next year so more sunlight can reach the plants growing between the mounds in the center of the garden. That should increase the squash yield. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, though – I don’t know how we could handle more butternut squash than we have already harvested!

What will I do with all this squash?

Our butternut harvest - and this doesn't include what we've already eaten!

Our butternut harvest - and this doesn't include what we've already eaten!

Luckily, butternut squash, like most winter squash, keeps very well and for quite a long time if it is harvested at the right time (not too early). If you are planning on storing butternut squash through the winter, harvest them in late September or October before the first heavy frost. The stems of mature squash will have turned from green to brown and the fruit will be a uniform tan color. Another sign that they are ready for long-term storage is that the skin will be tough enough that you can’t puncture it with your fingernail.

Before they're mature, butternut squash are lighter colored with tender skin and green stems.

Before they're mature, butternut squash are light colored with tender skin and green stems.

When you harvest butternut squash, cut the squash from the vine with shears leaving a short, 1-inch long stem. If a stem happens to break off, refrigerate the squash and use it first because rot can set in at the point where the stem was attached to the fruit.

Store your squash in a warm (55-60oF), dry (60-70% relative humidity) area like a basement and spread them out in a single layer so they get good air circulation. Under these conditions, properly harvested butternut squash can be stored for at least 2-3 months. Check them every so often for any signs of deterioration.

Butternut squash soup with apple and bacon from Fine Cooking

Butternut squash soup with apple and bacon from Fine Cooking

As for eating, I have discovered the most delicious butternut squash soup recipe from Fine Cooking. It incorporates bacon, apple, and fresh sage with the squash – so good and so easy to make, too. I made some that very afternoon. This hearty soup makes a perfect dinner for a crisp fall Sunday evening especially when there’s a good football game on! Soup and some Bisquick biscuits – it doesn’t get much better than that; except if you have some homemade bread to go with it!

Betty Crocker Autumn Chicken Stew

Betty Crocker Autumn Chicken Stew

One of our other favorite butternut squash recipes is Autumn Chicken Stew from Betty Crocker. The recipe actually calls for pumpkin or Hubbard squash but we’ve always used butternut squash. This stew also makes a good hearty meal for a fall or winter evening and uses lots of produce from the vegetable garden including the squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. For an added bonus, you get to make dumplings on top, yum!

Both of these are easy recipes. For me the most time consuming part of the process is peeling and cutting up the squash but the end result is stupendous!

For an even easier/quicker dish, just cut an unpeeled butternut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, brush with olive oil, and bake cut side up at 400o for 25-30 minutes until tender. If you want, sprinkle each half with some brown sugar and put a teaspoon of butter in the seed cavity before baking. When it’s done, you can scoop the cooked squash into a serving bowl or serve individual skin-on pieces. Mmmmmm – sweet and delicious!

Boy – now I’m hungry!

Oh well, until next time – Happy Gardening!

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The attractive foliage and large bright flowers of the zucchetta adds interest in the vegetable garden.What an interesting vegetable to add to your garden – if you have the room!

The zucchetta fruits are long and thin with seeds only in the bulbous blossom end.

The zucchetta fruits are long and thin with seeds only in the bulbous blossom end. They grow straighter when the vines are trained to a trellis.

We grew this Italian heirloom climbing squash once many years ago. It performed quite well and produced a reasonable number of very long thin-necked squash, one of which was left on the vine and grew almost 4 feet long! I wish I could find the picture of that one. We grew them on a strong 6×6 foot trellis and the vines easily grew to the top and over.

The squash themselves are mostly “neck” with a small bulbous end that contains the seeds. The long, thin neck is solid flesh which we sliced fairly thin and sautéed like zucchini.

This year we again included zucchetta in our repertoire of garden vegetables. Our garden is much larger now than it was back then but we are still growing them on a trellis because they are such great climbers and it saves space in the garden. Growing them on a trellis also seems to keep the fruit growing straighter and not as twisted.

Our zucchetta plants share a double trellis with my cucumbers and at this point have sort of exploded over the top and beyond. Eric has had to get creative to provide more climbing space for them!

In an attempt to keep them from invading my cucumbers, Eric added a pole and cross piece for the aggressive vines to climb over.

In an attempt to keep them from invading my cucumbers, Eric added a pole and a cross piece attached to the trellis for the aggressive vines to climb over.

The vines are very robust with large leaves and giant golden blooms. The foliage is quite attractive with an interesting pattern of silvery white variegation along the leaf veins and this combined with the large flowers gives the whole plant an exotic, almost tropical look.

So far we have harvested 6 or 7 squash and there are many more on the way. Eric has tried to pick them while they are still “small” – only about 18″ to 24″ long with the neck less than 2″ in diameter. I have read that they can be harvested at any stage in their development but that they have the best flavor when they are young and about this size.

The flesh in the neck is firm and seedless. When cooked, it has a texture more like that of a winter squash because it isn’t at all watery but rather dense. The flavor is very nice. It doesn’t have what I would call a strong “squash” taste – it’s a little more subtle with a nutty flavor. I am curious to leave a few on the vine to mature so we can try it as a winter squash.

The squash is prolific but not quite as "bounteous" as zucchini can be.

The squash is prolific but not quite as "bounteous" as zucchini can be.

We have also discovered another major advantage to growing this variety of squash – bugs don’t seem to like it! In addition to our zucchetta, we are growing regular zucchini and yellow straight neck summer squash. Right now, most of these squash plants are on their way out – victims of the dreaded squash vine borer. I usually lose one or two squash plants to these pests each year but this year, they have devastated all my plants. The zucchetta seems to be resistant to squash vine borers – perhaps the stem is too tough for the young larvae to bore through.

I haven’t seen any other insects on the vines either, not even squash bugs. This in a year where there has been a population explosion of bean beetles in both our traditional vegetable garden and our Three Sisters Garden. Not only have these pests skeletonized the bush beans but they have also moved into the pole beans which, in my experience, are normally fairly resistant to bean beetles. But that’s a whole other story …

It looks like we will still have plenty of squash to fill our dinner plates this August; it just won’t be zucchini or yellow summer squash from here on out. But that’s okay, the monster zucchetta squash, will more than fill the void! Yum!

Until next time – Happy gardening!

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A trellis of cucumbers and squash.

Boy has it been HOT – too hot to work in the garden unless you work early in the morning or later in the evening! Luckily, our vegetable garden doesn’t seem to mind the oppressive heat and is growing and producing well. As always I have probably over-planted. So far we’ve been inundated with cucumbers, squash, and beans. That means lots of pickles – I hope my family and friends never get tired of them!

Rattlesnake beans have climbed to the top of the pole supports. The bush beans in the foreground have been producing well.

Rattlesnake beans have climbed to the top of the pole supports. The bush beans in the foreground have been producing well but have been attacked by bean beetles.

The beans are really producing well. I froze 19 quart bags yesterday and there are many more on the way. The unfortunate thing was that after I took all the bags down to the freezer, I realized that I hadn’t saved any out for dinner! Oh well, I’m sure there are already more that need to be picked and we had (still have) a ton of squash that we needed to eat anyway. I’m so glad that my daughter has decided that squash is one of her favorite summer vegetables!

Despite the hot and humid weather, rain has been very scarce lately. The afternoon thunderstorms have passed us by and the fields are beginning to become very dry. I find it very  interesting to watch how the field corn reacts to the dry conditions and hot sun. In the morning on my way to work, the leaves are fairly flat and arching so that much of the leaf surface is exposed to the sun and humid morning air. By the time I drive home in the evening, all the leaves are curled and oriented straight up limiting their exposure to the hot afternoon sun and reducing water loss from the leaves. Clever – sort of reminiscent of how the rhododendron leaves cope with freezing temperatures.

A developing cantaloupe stays clean as it grows on the mulch of straw.

A developing cantaloupe stays clean as it grows on the mulch of straw.

Our vegetable garden is not suffering from the dry conditions because it is mostly mulched with straw and when it needs it, we can water. The straw mulch has really helped with moisture retention in the soil and even with this dry weather, we haven’t had to do much supplemental watering. The mulch has also been great for weed control, although I wish I had put it on a little thicker because weeds are beginning to pop up here and there – but these are easy enough to pull up.

Last night the dry spell was finally broken (at least at our house) with some strong winds and a heavy downpour which eventually eased into a fairly gentle rain. We only got ¼” but every little bit helps.

I had been meaning to go out and take some pictures of the vegetable garden but things have been so busy lately with the Daylily & Wine Festival and then I was in Ohio most of last week at a wonderful field trip and conference at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Campus in Marysville, Ohio. Boy, talk about hot and humid but it was very interesting and I learned a lot.

My corn was flattened by the wind and rain but Eric's three sisters corn was still standing tall.

My corn was flattened by the wind and rain but Eric's three sisters corn which is about 10 days older than mine was still standing tall.

Anyway, this morning on my way to work, I stopped at the garden to take some pictures and found to my disappointment that most of my corn had blown over in the storm. Luckily, the corn in Eric’s three sister’s garden was still standing straight and tall – perhaps the beans helped anchor it down. Oh well, such is life. It’s not the first time this has happened to me – it seems to happen every year to some degree. Well at least we’ll get corn from the three sister’s garden and more beans, and more squash … Yikes – I think we’ll need a bigger freezer!

I figured my corn was a goner for this year (fuel for the compost pile) but I got a lovely surprise in my inbox this afternoon – a picture of all my corn standing up straight again! Eric had pulled all the corn stalks upright and supported each row using poles and twine.

What a nice guy!

Eric wove baler twine attached to a pole at each end of  the short rows to support the corn stalks.

Eric attached baler twine to a pole at one end of the row, wove it through the corn stalks, and attached it to a pole at the other end.

All back to "normal".

Standing tall again!

Next time – the success of the three sister’s garden!

Happy Gardening – try to stay cool!

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“I want to plant a “Three Sisters Garden” this year”, announced my husband Eric last Saturday as we were enjoying our morning coffee in front of the warm fire in the sunroom. We had been pouring over seed catalogs for the past few weeks trying to plan out our vegetable garden.

Corn, one of the "Three Sisters", creates a natural support for the beans.

Corn, one of the "Three Sisters", creates a natural support for the beans.

I was vaguely familiar with the American Indian legend of the Three Sisters; at least I knew that it involved the combination planting of corn, beans, and squash – the “Three Sisters”, but I guess I didn’t really know much beyond that. The legend originated with the Iroquois Indians and it’s a fascinating story of sustainable gardening that combines the nitrogen fixing properties of the bean plants with the nutritional benefits of all three.

In this planting system, the corn provides support for the beans, the beans add nitrogen to the soil to feed the corn, and the squash vines with their large leaves provide a living mulch, shading out weeds and moderating soil temperature and moisture.

Rattlesnake beans will grow up the corn stalks.

Delicious rattlesnake beans will grow up the corn stalks in the corn/bean mounds of our Three Sisters garden.

The roots of the beans fix nitrogen throughout the growing season, adding that all important nutrient to the soil for the following season’s corn crop. The whole kit and caboodle can be turned under at the end of the season adding more nutrients and increasing the organic content of the soil.

Nutritionally, these three crops are packed full of good stuff: carbohydrates from the corn, protein from the beans (especially dried beans), and the squash provides essential vitamins (from the fruit) and oils (from the seeds).

Well, I must say this is an intriguing idea that would be fun to try. Eric’s thought is to transform part of our old overgrown asparagus patch into a Three Sisters Garden. There is a great description of the how to plant one on the Renee’s Garden website.

We'll probably grow butternut squash or acorn squash between our corn/bean mounds.

We'll probably grow butternut squash or acorn squash between our corn/bean mounds.

Basically, you interplant mounds containing corn and beans with mounds of a vining type of squash like pumpkins or a winter squash. For good pollination of the corn, the minimum area to plant is 100 square feet – a 10′ x 10′ garden with three 10′ rows spaced 5′ apart. Within each row, the corn/bean mounds should be spaced 5′ apart with the squash mounds planted between them. The mounds should alternate in each row so that the first row has 3 squash mounds and 2 corn/bean mounds, the second row has 2 squash mounds and 3 corn/bean mounds, and the third row again has 3 squash mounds and 2 corn/bean mounds.

I think we’ll give it a shot! It will be a fun experiment. I was interested to note that the bean variety that is used in the Three Sisters Garden package put together by Renee’s Garden is my favorite – Rattlesnake beans!!!

I’ll keep you apprised of our progress through the season. I hope it works better than my attempt to grow potatoes in stacked tires! That was pretty much an “epic fail” as my daughter would say! This I’m sure will be great – but I’ll let you know!

Until next time – Happy New Year and Happy Gardening in 2011!

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My vegetable garden in August.

My garden has "exploded" this season! So many cukes, beans, and squash! The corn and tomatoes are on the way!

Well, I must say that my vegetable garden has grown very well this year!

The tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans have grown to the top of the trellises, the eggplants have filled the tires, and the corn is over my head! Miraculously this year, I have been fairly diligent about keeping it weeded and thanks to the layer of mulch I put down early in the season; the weeds have been pretty easy to keep up with.

The cucumbers have reached the top of the trellis!

The cucumbers have reached the top of the trellis and have been producing like crazy!

This seems to be the year of the cucumber – at least in my garden! I planted a few extra plants this year because my vines usually succumb to downy mildew halfway through the season and I don’t get as many as I like. Remember I said everyone loves my pickles? Well, I hope they don’t get sick of them because so far this year, I have made 45 pints of bread & butter pickles and 24 pints of dill pickles! Plus, I have given away bags of cucumbers and eaten tons myself – and they’re still coming! Yum, I never get tired of them – but I am getting tired of making pickles!

The rattlesnake beans have grown to the top of the trellis.

The rattlesnake beans have grown to the top of the trellis and are prolifically producing the most delicious burgundy striped beans!

The cherry tomatoes are producing like crazy and my big tomatoes are just beginning to ripen in earnest. I think the heat has set them back because the plants don’t seem to be producing as well this year. The squash and beans on the other had are producing very well. I missed some when we were away on vacation in Vermont but there are loads more coming along. In fact, I have a huge bag in the fridge right now all fixed and ready to freeze – one of tonight’s projects!

The rattlesnake beans are as delicious as ever! They are even tender and flavorful when they are large. The only problem is that they have grown up on the trellis so high that I have a hard time reaching the ones at the top!

Kentucky Wonder beans have taken over their poles! The Brandywine tomatoes (an heirloom variety) have a blight but are still producing well.

Kentucky Wonder beans have taken over their poles! The Brandywine tomatoes (an heirloom variety) have a blight but are still producing well.

This year, thankfully, the insect pests have been relatively scarce in my vegetable garden. I have heard other gardeners say this, too. Even the destructive Japanese Beetles that can devastate pole beans, corn, and many other plants, seem to be in low numbers this year – at least in our area. Andre has been discussing this lack of Japanese beetles with listeners on his radio show and feels that the dry weather has a lot to do with it. The ground was so dry and hard that the beetle larvae and/or the emerging adult beetles may have had a difficult time burrowing through the soil to complete their development. I guess that may have been one benefit to the heat and drought!

Well I guess I’d better get home and process my beans! Oh yes and I have a big basket of tomatoes I need to can as well. It will be a busy night at our house tonight – but it always is at this time of the year! Yesterday, I canned 17 pints of applesauce from our own apples and Saturday, I made the first ever grape jam from grapes my son planted 2 years ago! Nice!

Until next time – Happy gardening and good harvesting!

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It’s May and that means it’s vegetable gardening time for many people. In these days of skyrocketing food prices, more and more families are turning towards growing their own vegetables – and why not? It’s fun, it’s healthy, and it saves money on your food bills!

Some late season plunder from my vegetable garden!

Some late season plunder from my vegetable garden!

The delicious, wholesome crops you produce will lead to healthier eating habits and tending a vegetable garden, whatever the size, is great exercise. Plus, home-grown vegetables tend be of high quality and have fantastic flavor when fresh picked.

Tomatoes

Grow a variety of tomatoes for for a colorful display on the table!

One of the most popular vegetables grown in the home garden is the tomato. Well, technically, I should correct myself because a tomato is really a fruit but, regardless of what you call it, I think everyone will agree that fresh, home-grown tomatoes are amazing! Tomatoes are popular because, not only are they delicious, but they are relatively easy to grow and can be grown almost anyplace where there is a nice patch of full sun. You don’t even have to have a big garden space to grow tomatoes; they can grow successfully anywhere you can fit a nice sized container – a deck, terrace, patio…  Just provide them with good soil, full sun, water, a stake for support, and a little food every so often and you will be rewarded with lots of tasty tomatoes.

Some tomato woes

Tomato devastated by blight

This tomato has been devastated by one of the fungal blights.

Last season, an unusually cool, wet spring combined with some unseasonably cold, humid nights in August created the perfect conditions for the proliferation of fungal and bacterial diseases that consequently infected many tomato crops. Some people watched helplessly as their entire crop of tomatoes was wiped out in less that a week by late blight, a disease caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans! This is the same fungal disease that devastated potato crops in Ireland causing the Irish potato famine in the 1850’s. Recently, we have received a lot of questions about how this will affect the crop this year and what can be done as a preventative measure to avoid the recurrence of these diseases.

Many fungal diseases, including early blight, septoria leaf spot, Fusarium and Verticillium wilts, and late blight, can be minimized by following a few simple cultural practices.

  • The number one recommendation is to rotate your crops! Don’t plant your tomatoes in the same location in the garden that they were planted last season (or where you had potatoes planted either). If your tomatoes were planted in a container and you experienced disease problems last season, get rid of that soil and start fresh with a good tomato soil mix.
  • Select disease resistant tomatoes. Disease resistance should be indicated on the label.
  • Give your tomato plants plenty of space. Wide spacing will increase air circulation and help reduce disease problems.
  • Mulch under your tomato plants with pine needles or another mulch to prevent fungal spores found in the soil from splashing up onto the tomato foliage and infecting your plants.
  • Practice good sanitation in the garden. Remove and destroy diseased foliage (do not compost) as it occurs. In the fall, clean the garden area and remove old stems and other plant debris.
  • Spray with recommended fungicides to protect your plants from infection. The Viettes recommend that you alternate spraying every two weeks with Bonide Liquid Copper fungicide and either Bonide Mancozeb with Zinc, Bonide Fung-onil, or Daconil. Always read and follow the label directions.
  • More information on growing tomatoes.

Well, hopefully this garden post is making your mouth water for a nice juicy tomato so …

“Get growing!” and until next time – Happy Gardening.

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