Flowers Galore

Beauty has woken from it’s slumber and the flowers around the backyard are bountiful.

Golden nasturtiums.  They're edible and are beautiful as a garnish on salads.

Golden nasturtiums. They’re edible and are beautiful as a garnish on salads.

Royal Lee Cherry in full bloom.

Royal Lee Cherry blooming away.

Today I tried my hand at being a pinch hitter pollenator.  While there are some bees around the garden, I hadn’t seen much activity on this cherry tree.  Being that this one cross pollenates with Minnie Royal, and that one bloomed later with only 4 blooms so far, I decided to increase my odds of ending up with a real, live cherry in May.  I took the smallest paintbrush I could find and gently brushed the pollen from the flowers of one tree and brushed what I collected onto the stigma (the longest part of the center of the flower) of the other tree, and vice a versa.

Here's what I believe to be the beginnings of a grape cluster!

Here’s what I believe to be the beginnings of a grape cluster!

Lettuce going to seed, yet also very floral-like.

Lettuce going to seed, yet also very floral-like.

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Happy Harvest

The girls came right up to the back door the other door to say hello. I think they saw me bring in some tomatoes from the garden and they were saying, "Tomatoes are our favorite! Where's ours?" They are so sweet and really have become our little buddies.

Here we have the last bit of lemon cucumbers, one lonely beet and some tomatoes. Notice my cat's tail poking out under my left hand? She is so docile and nonchalant around the silkies and they don't mind her either!

Lettuce, lettuce! It seems we have salad about every other night these days, which is a wonderful side effect of having your own garden. Sometimes you're forced to eat healthier for the sake of ripe veggies. The sugar snap peas are reaching to the heavens and have started to ripen. Here's a few that made it in the house instead of a garden snack!

I have two bell pepper plants, each of which only produced one large pepper.  Just when I thought they were dunzo, the plants have greened up and are about to flower again.  Not sure if this is normal for a bell (my first time with them, too!) but if I can get a couple more out of them, I would be grateful!  I have a feeling that the few nights of frost in the winter will probably prematurely interrupt their plan, but we’ll give it a shot.

Happy Harvesting!

Fall Garden

The yellow crookneck squash is still hanging on!

Heirloom tomato "Stupice" getting ready to ripen already!

Stupice is a prolific grower. So glad I have 4 of them.

The sugar snap peas are starting to really take off.

My first lettuce! This is a second planting after the first set was mowed by a bunny.

The lemon cucumber is VERY happy. I had to prune the main shoot to control it's height. There are so many baby cucumbers for one plant.

Baby lemon cucumber

The cherry tomatoes are still producing well.

After the first wave of green beans, these vines had a growth spurt and I'm expecting another large crop.

The bells should be turning orange and yellow pretty soon!

The majority of the pumpkins are harvested, which gave way for new planting. Yesterday I sowed Detroit Red beets, cosmic purple carrots and all season romaine.

A late bloomer pumpkin finishing up.

Here we have beets, carrots, cabbage and spinach. The spinach sure is taking it's sweet time.

The nasturtiums are popping up with the cooler weather. Great on salads!

Pesky Pests!

This week has been trying in my garden.  Although I have been harvesting plenty of green beans, my yellow crookneck squash are still happily producing, some cherry tomatoes are rolling in and my pumpkins are continuing to fatten, I’m up against an army of persistent pests.  I’m feeling less than fond of my current foes: rabbits, rats, white butterfly eggs and grasshoppers.  Oh AND hornworms.  They have all ascended into my garden, set to one mode: eat and destroy.  I’ve caught 2 rats that were eating my figs straight off the tree and plucking cherry tomatoes (red and green) from my 2 precious tomato plants.  I wasn’t sure who the culprit was, but one night of a trap and my hunch was confirmed.  I’m definitely not fond of having to “extinguish” an animal, even a rat…but a gardener has to do what a gardner has to do.  Thank goodness my understanding husband has helped in the process.

This morning I went out to check on my seedlings and gasped in horror at the absence of my broccoli, red cabbage, beet and lettuce seedlings.  Nearly EVERYTHING I sowed in late August has been mowed to the ground.  You know what they say, “What do you do when you fall off the horse?  You get back on!”  I thought it was another rat, but had the idea it could be a rabbit…I’ve seen one a few months back in the front yard.  I really hoped it wasn’t a rabbit because that’s a whole lot different than a rat.  This evening as I stepped out to the backyard, I saw a glimpse of the scurrying cottontail.  “Darn it!!”  What was left of my broccoli is now completed mowed.  I’ve temporarily got 2 foot high chicken wire fencing around both veggie plots in hopes of saving what’s left of my snap peas, carrots and beets.  I expected it to be somewhat of an eye sore, but it’s not so bad.  It’s better than no veggies!!  Boy, this veggie garden is really testing my gumption!  I’m starting to wonder how much I really want this.  And I do really want it!  It’s been so time consuming lately with tending to seedlings and now pesky pests.

Later that day the rabbit returned and finished the job.

By the light of the full moon my husband put up poultry netting (24″ high) to save what little is left of my seedlings (carrots, a few beets and all of my snap peas).  I’ve read that rabbits can make their way under this, so this weekend we’ll have to dig and put it a few inches under the soil.  The fencing should be 24″ high, as that’s how high rabbits have been known to jump!

The smaller of the 2 veggie plots. I already re-sowed lettuce and broccoli here.

After the pumpkins are done in October (the rabbits don't seem to be interested in them), this will be extended around the entire 52 square feet of this bed.

The other pest that I learned about a few days ago after I saw small yellow eggs on the underside of my broccoli and red cabbage seedlings (that are now sitting in the rabbit’s stomach) is the white butterfly worm.  Those cute white butterflies that bring a smile to your face as you garden love to lay their caterpillar eggs in the above mentioned places.  They take 5-7 days to hatch and then make quick work of the seedling.  Keep an eye out and smoosh those eggs!

Moths continue to lay hornworm eggs on my cherry tomato plants.  I try my best to find most of them, but they are so gosh darn small and have the best color camouflage known to the bug world.  I’ve read about BT (Bacillis Thuringiensis), which is a live bacteria that is deadly to all types of caterpillars and nothing else.  I believe it qualifies as organic as well.  It is widely available in garden centers and nurseries.  Once sprayed on the leaves it takes a few days to see results.  It must be reapplied after heavy rains and methodically every 2 weeks as long as hornworms are present.  I haven’t gone down this route yet, as I’m keeping the population to a minimum with hand picking.  However I can see come next summer when I have more tomato plants, you may see a post about BT.  Speaking of next summer’s tomatoes, I’ve made a garden pledge to grow only heirlooms.  I’m so excited!

On a happy note, I recently bought two heirloom tomato plants at a local nursery that specifically do well in the cold season (I’ve heard these do well in the heat, full sun or even part shade – versatile!).  My new babies are “Stupice”, pronounced “Stoo-Peech-Kah”.  This little red tomato is from Czechoslovakia and has won awards for it’s tangy flavor.  It is supposed to be a wonderful early tomato and best of all, they have disease-resistant, potato-leaf foliage.  They’ve been in the garden for about 2 weeks and so far NO hornworm eggs or hornworms!  I’m thinking this may be due to the potato leaves.  Hooray!

Sophie’s Seed Choice

As a new edible gardener, it's a bit heart-wrenching having to thin my seedlings. I know it's good for the plants and has to be done, yadda yadda, but I still dread it. Seen as though it's that time of year to sow cool season seeds such as lettuce, carrots, etc., I thought I'd share a tip: the best way to thin out seedlings is to use scissors! I had been pulling them out by hand and was worried about the disturbance to the delicate neighboring seedlings. The book titled, You Grow Girl, gave me the simple and "duh" idea of snipping them instead. And it works great!

I also want to talk about what I did to prepare my novice soil.  It had never been enriched with ANYTHING.  I decided to forego  a raised garden after I tried and succeeded well with amending my existing soil.  I haven’t ruled it out for the future, but for now I’m content with it as is.  Plus I’m not in to the idea of spending my weekend spending money and working on a raised bed.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

My Soil Saver! Kellogg AMEND was recommended to me by a garden employee and I couldn't be happier! Granted, it's not organic, but man does it grow awesome veggies! I use one bag on 12-15 square feet. I combine it with the existing soil down about 9 inches...more if I'm planting root veggies. It also helps to dig up the soil so that it's lighter and has more air in it for little seedlings to grow. My southern California suburban soil is very sandy with pretty much no nutritional value.

I’d love to eventually get to the point where I’m making my own compost, but for the meantime I’ll use this route.

The only thing more abundant than the sandy soil is snails.  Since I’m trying to make my way to true organic gardening, I do not use pesticides or chemicals for pests.  I found Ortho Elementals Slug and Snail Killer for Organic Gardening.  It seems to be doing the trick since I haven’t seen the tell-tale slime or bites around the garden.