Remember the mystery squash? Or gourd? Or whatever it was? I got thinking it was a little too healthy and was competing with my known squash and gourds so I pulled the plug.
Just uprooted it at the source and let it wither. It was growing so vigorously I was concerned about the water and nutrients it was taking away from the plants I intended to grow, not to mention the fact its rampant leaves were casting some shade on the bush squash below. The fruits weren’t getting any bigger and now I’ve noted that’s the case with the bush squash, some of which look like they’re getting ripe. Right or wrong, I did the deed and am willing to live with my choice.
In the meantime, now that I’ve had the chance to observe how the three kinds of bush squash and the one gourd I grew this year behaved I have a plan to give them all the room they need next year. I just have to remember to write it down!
The soil where we have our garden plot is mostly clay. Despite being gardened for over fifty years, I still pull chunks of clay out of the ground that could go straight to a potter’s wheel. Since we started working it I have made a concerted effort to dig in organic matter every chance I get. The garden committee occasionally purchases and resells compost at cost, but I rely almost entirely on a massive leaf pile collected from the curbsides of the village adjacent to the university where our garden is. Sometimes there are additional organic matter opportunities such as a mixture of manure and bedding from the riding club’s stables. The latest source of organic matter dumped in the communal area is lake weeds.
To reduce the nutrient load in a large nearby lake and make the shore areas more attractive and usable large machines harvest the weeds growing there. The stuff reeks, but it’s full of nutrients and organic matter and even the occasional small fish that I’m happy to take.
I had one bed that was mostly done for the moment so I tore out the finished broccoli and the kale that we’ve decided just isn’t our thing. I dug out the soil down to a depth of about eight inches in a third of the bed at a time and spread the glorious gunk in the bottom and then covered it completely. Remember? The smell? What I noticed as I was working and made me so happy was something that’s becoming apparent here and there throughout the plot. The soil is getting better. It’s less sticky and clumpy than it was when we took over and though we had had a two-inch rainfall over a couple of the previous days it was nicely and evenly moist for the depth that I dug out.
Once I’d interred all of the gunk I mulched the bed with shredded leaves. I’ve got some Chinese cabbage and baby bok choi seedlings I may set out here in the next few days. I hope they don’t experience any ill effects if/when their roots reach the gunk layer.
At the end of the season I’ll chop down any cover crops I may have going and haul in more leaves and spade everything in to each fallow bed. It’s a bit of physical work but I’m encouraged by the results we’re getting and feel like it’s all worthwhile.
In other news, I had terrible germination from the snap peas I planted a while ago so I resorted to a trick I’d used in the past for black-eyed peas. I soaked and sprouted the seeds and then sowed the ones that sprouted. I don’t know if the problem was the heat that we were having at the time or, more likely, the rodents that plague the gardens. In any case, I at least know these were viable seeds at one point. The crop was so good last spring–and made my co-workers happy–that I’m trying a fall crop for the first time. I hope there’s time for them to grow. The cool days we are suddenly having make me wonder.
After some long weeks of drying and curing, the onions and garlic have been cleaned up and put away.
The garlic, all hardneck varieties, was dug up and placed in baskets hanging from the basement ceiling to cure out of the sunlight. Normally a basement is a poor place to cure garlic, but we run dehumidifiers and with the sticky weather we were having for a while it was drier down there than a protected spot outdoors would have been.
The onions got the same treatment only they were placed on galvanized nursery trays and spent the first few weeks outside in a mostly shaded spot. See how nasty those leaves were from the fungal attack? I spoke with a plant disease expert at the urban horticulture field day at the University’s local agricultural research station last weekend. He said the black, horrible looking stuff was probably a secondary attack after the leaves had been infected with another fungus first, likely Botritis or Alternaria. The good news is that since the basal plates were intact and the bulbs themselves appear OK they should still store for a while at least. I’m keeping an especially close eye on a few that didn’t seem quite right, though.
To clean the garlic up for storage I broke the hard wad of soil and roots off each bulb, trimmed off the roots and stem, and gently rubbed off any remaining soil and sometimes a layer of the outer papery skin. The onions got essentially the same treatment but since they have finer roots they didn’t have the soil wad to contend with.
The onions should keep us for a while. There are more smaller ones than usual this year. The garlic we have more than enough of even when I subtract out the ones for replanting in October. These two crops are among the most satisfying to grow and I’m hoping we don’t have to contend with a repeat performance of the fungal problem any time soon.
I was vacillating about going on a pollinator tour yesterday at a local land conservancy. We had been to an opening/tour of a distillery on Friday and then Saturday we braved the heat again for the urban horticulture field day at the agricultural research station. In the end I decided I’d probably regret it if I skipped it. I’m so glad I went!
While the tour started with a general introduction to pollinators and their importance, the main focus of the event was bumble bees. We learned about their life cycle and got some helpful tips on how to photograph and identify them. The presenter encouraged us to submit our sightings to Bumble Bee Watch, a citizen science project I started looking at earlier this summer but hadn’t gotten around to submitting anything to. If you’re in North America I suggest you check it out and consider getting involved.
The weather has been on the dry side lately so there hasn’t been as much nectar available for bees. The purple coneflowers were popular. That’s where we saw this Brown-belted Bumble Bee, or at least that’s what I think it is. I’m not too sure of my identification skills at this point but hope with time and seeing more bees it will become easier. Bumble bees can be tricky to identify because the queens, males and worker females can all look different within a species and there are variations even within a sex.
The coneflowers also attracted these solitary bees who were busy collecting pollen for their brood.
In all we saw five species of bumble bees in the three hours we were there. This one in the jar is a Yellow Bumble Bee. Our guide was catching bees for us to see up close, first with a net, but then just by walking up to them and placing the jar over them. They were all released unharmed when we were done looking at them.
Along with the bees we saw a few Monarch Butterfly caterpillars like this one. It seemed to be lost exploring a nodding onion stem rather than its usual milkweed host plants.
It was cool to see so many people turn out for an event like this. There were even a couple of young boys in attendance who were really into it, asking good questions and having a great time finding bees. We all came away with information and suggestions of resources to help us continue our studies of bumble bees. Now I need to get out and see more bees before it’s too late. The flowers I associate with autumn, goldenrod and asters are starting to bloom and before we know it the bees will have tucked themselves away for winter.
It seems like ages ago that the first of my Indigo Rose tomatoes started showing some color. In time they all grew larger and developed the dark purple color on their stem ends. And then they just sat there for weeks being otherwise green and hard. Finally, a few of them started to redden and today I decided it was time to taste.
The purple pretty much stayed the same on the ripe tomato. It ripened to a typical red tomato color.
Inside it was red throughout. I’ve gotten used to the “black” tomatoes I grow having at least some darker flesh mixed in but there seems to be only a little bit just inside the dark areas of skin on this one. The taste was OK. Nothing spectacular. It as a fun novelty to grow but I don’t see it being a major source of of anthocyanins in my diet, but at least a little more color in salads.
The second subject of today’s taste testing was the Habanada pepper. This variety of what would normally be a rather hot pepper, the Habanero, has been bred to have no heat and given a clever name. I don’t mind hot peppers, but I was intrigued so I ordered a couple of plants.
Inside it didn’t have many seeds. As I brought it up to take a bite I could detect that distinctive tropical hot pepper fragrance. Biting down and chewing I waited but the burn never came. It was strange. I liked it, sweet but not like a bell pepper. It’s going to take a few of them to add much flavor to whatever I may put them in, but fortunately it looks like the plants are going to be heavy bearers despite their diminutive size.
Have you tasted any new-to-you produce this year?
Sorry if you’re a little squeamish, but this is too cool to share. Although, I don’t suppose the caterpillar shares my enthusiasm. Last week I found a tobacco hornworm feeding on the leaves of one of my tomato plants. Today I spotted another one. This this one had a problem—a serious problem.
See those white things riding on its back? Those are cocoons of a braconid wasp. The Braconidae is a large group of parasitoid wasps. There is at least one that uses tomato and tobacco hornworms as a host for it’s little babies. It injects its eggs under the skin of the caterpillar. When they hatch, the larvae burrow around inside the poor sucker munching as they go until they’re big enough to pupate. Then they pop through the skin, spin a white cocoon of silk and transform into adult wasps that can go on and do that same to more hornworm caterpillars. Isn’t Nature wonderful! The infestation usually kills the host earning the wasps the parasitoid label rather than calling them parasites. I didn’t dispose of this caterpillar like I did with the other one. Here is an opportunity to practice some completely organic pest control. I left them to go about the next stage in their lifecycle protecting the tomato plants of the community garden.
The volunteer squash I discovered is starting to show some evidence of its parentage. There are a few little fruits forming along the vine and I’ve been browsing images of striped squash to see if I can get a clue as to who its parents may have been. So far I’m finding plenty of varieties with wide light stripes alternated with narrow green stripes but none with the reverse like this except zucchini, which might not be a good thing. I’ve just started my investigation. Perhaps when it’s fully-grown and ripened and tasted I’ll have more hints as to where it came from. In the meantime I’m coming across all sorts of squashes I want to try!