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Garden Update #20

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:12pm
This is going to be a really long garden update - we've had some good progress, but also some major setbacks this week, and a lot was learned. It will also be a long update this week because, well, I'm really long-winded, and we now have three "different" gardens to update on - the community garden, the back porch container garden, and now our indoor winter garden (attempt). I won't give too much away in this little introduction, so let's just get into the "meat" of the update.

Starting with the container garden:

Not much bad to report here, except it seems we lost our resident fly, which we both miss VERY much. I'm not sure if I ever discussed the fly here or not, so if this is redundant, I apologize. A couple of months ago, we noticed a large black fly with neat little white spots all over it sleeping on our little patio table. Brett almost killed it but for some reason decided against it. We are both incredibly happy he didn't kill it. The fly decided to make our porch home, and as "payment" he (it could have been a female, but we just assumed it was a male) ate the aphids off of our pepper plants and he chased all the wasps away (as our porch was now his "territory"). It became a very welcome sight and we got used to having him around. Well, we saw him briefly yesterday morning, but haven't seen him since, and the wasps, multiple ones, are already starting to get aggressive with one another (and we're afraid inadvertently, to us too) in order to claim our porch as their new roost. We are both really hoping that the fly is just out mating or something and that he'll be back, it was such a beneficial bug to have.

The serrano plant seems to be making a comeback. We were starting to think that it was done producing, being a second year plant, but once the food began to soak in, it has started to produce some new blooms. Looks like we might get a few more off of it this year after all. And I hate to say this, as it might seem silly, but we've gotten a little attached to this plant, having had it a couple of years and being able to nurse it into producing for a second season, that even when it will no longer produce, we will keep it as a houseplant as long as it will live. Any added green makes the apartment seem more pleasant, it cleans the air, and well, we like this plant dammit!

The poblano still isn't doing anything - it's been really disappointing, we were hoping it would do well. We've been talking and think it could be under potted, so next year we will plant poblanos and bell peppers in the community garden rather than in containers on the porch. We don't want to give up our "prime container real estate" by using as large of pots as we would need to grow them on the porch. By the way, watch out for the pepper garden next year, we are planning on growing - oh - probably double the amount of peppers on our porch that we did this year, that way we can get enough to really can a lot of things. We didn't use our space as efficiently as we could have, and have decided that we'll grow multiples of the peppers that we want to preserve and singles of the ones we want to try out or just have a few fresh for cooking with.

Here are the container garden pictures for this week:

Here's a little photo shoot of the cayenne pepper plant. I guess we play favorites a little bit, looking at the number of pictures that we take of certain plants, so I assume you can tell which ones are our favorite. This bad boy is loaded down with peppers. Cayenne peppers will not ripen off the plant, so we are playing the waiting game with them at this point. The weather has been unseasonably cool here this year - we had a few days last week with highs in the lower 70s which is very abnormal for the Midwest in August. They are calling for sunny, warmer weather, so hopefully that will encourage these guys to ripen. We've still got a couple of months of warm temperatures yet, so we are hoping there will be time for the cayenne to produce another round. It has been a very prolific plant - we will be growing multiple cayennes next year - Jennifer really likes her ground cayenne and crushed red pepper - and Brett doesn't mind so long as I don't try to share the spice love with him too much.

A photo shoot of the crazy Hungarian Wax plant. I believe Brett said in last week's garden update that this plant seems like it's almost infested with peppers, and it IS! There are more peppers on it than leaves, which has us both wondering how it can continue to go like it is - but, well, it is, so I guess it's alright. These are really good peppers and I hope to get a pint or so of these pickled before the (outdoor) growing season is over. At the rate this thing is going, it will produce another round yet as well. These are a great and versatile pepper, slightly spicy, but not overly so, and they are great used in place of banana, poblano, or even jalapeno peppers, and they make really good pickled peppers. Mmmmmm.

The jalapeno plant should have had a photo shoot, it has been by far the best plant we've had in terms of production and overall appearance. The lighting wasn't so hot by the time I got to photographing this one, so this was the only one that turned out. This plant has been very productive. The Local Booty Update I just posted showed the large "mess" of them we picked on Friday. Those were just the one's ready to be picked, and as a result of picking those, a ton of new blooms have started to form.

The petite bell pepper plant is still going strong. This plant has been a pleasant surprise, the peppers are quite small, but their flavor is fantastic, far better than the larger red bell peppers you can grow. It has been a very abundant producer as well, making it alright that the peppers are so small, there are almost always a ton in various stages of growth. We will probably grow these again next year. If we get enough, I am going to take Brett's advice and try making our Roasted Red Pepper Hummus out of these, I bet that will be a nice treat.

The "regular" bell pepper plant was a little bit of a late bloomer. Not sure why, but it is trying to make up for lost time now. There are a few of these smallish peppers on them - they don't really get any larger than this, so I will be picking them as I need them. There are also quite a few little ones getting started as well as some new blooms.

And now on to the community garden.

As I mentioned earlier, the weather has been unseasonably cool this year, and we've had quite a bit more rain than usual, so our hay "barrier" against weeds just didn't cut it. The weeds and grass really made some strides this week and trying to pull them out threatens to take some of the plants with them, so we just have to deal with the grass and weeds at this point. And that sucks because they are competing for water and nutrients with our crops, but when I tried to pull a clump of grass out and almost pulled a banana pepper plant with it, I decided we should just leave it alone at this point. Next year, we are going to take a fellow gardener's advice - she put down a layer of newspaper (our local paper is printed using soy ink) and a really thick layer of hay, she has no weeds and hasn't had to weed her garden a single time this year.

We went down to the garden on Friday to see if anything needed to be picked and as we approached we noticed that one of our zucchini plants was dead and that the rest of the garden looked, well, horrible. Lots of yellowing and drooping leaves, and as we got closer we saw why - squash bugs.

Remember the eggs we were trying to identify a few weeks back?

Well we know what they are now, they are squash bug eggs.

Here is a good look at these destructive little critters. We had been, out of intuition, not any information, removing the leaves that had eggs clusters on them as we found them. We both knew from what little we had learned about gardening and bugs, that bugs will generally lay their eggs on or next to their food source, so assuming that the leaves were the intended food source for whatever was housed in the eggs, we removed them.

The problem with having a community garden is, well, a number of things. For one, everyone seems to grow much the same things, this is no different, really, from monocropping, which leaves the garden vulnerable to pest infestations. The other problem is, not everyone else is as diligent about tending to their plots as we are, so even if we do all the right things, we can still have problems because of how other people tend (or don't tend) to their plots.

After coming home and doing some research, we discovered that these squash bugs are really hard to deal with once they begin hatching. So if you ever see any eggs that look like this, remove them immediately and dispose of them as far away from your garden as possible, if you can burn them, that would be ideal. Another option we read about is interplanting buckwheat with the squash, apparently the buckwheat will attract a particular type of fly (I am quickly growing fond of flies) that will "parasite" the squash bugs. They will lay their eggs on the bugs and when they hatch, well, the flies will make a meal of the bugs. Spider also help, but I am not sure how to attract them yet, I'm going to have to do some more research. I also read that neem oil seems to do a little to take care of the problem, but once you have an infestation, there is only so much you can do.

We have decided that next year we will only grow summer squash and butternut, as the squash bugs don't seem to be nearly as "into" those as they are the zucchini or, especially, acorn squash (which ours, thankfully, didn't make it). The squash bugs munch on and lay their eggs on our summer and butternut squash, but they don't eat the actual fruit, and we saw them doing that to a neighboring plots acorn squash plant.

Now, as I noted earlier, we have been doing our best to keep the eggs down in our plot, so as bad as our seems to us, the other plots are far worse.

Take a look at what can happen to your garden because of these icky little guys. (These are pictures from other plots.)

This is pretty much what our zucchini plant looked like when we got to the garden of Friday. We removed the plant and disposed of it away from the garden.

Not sure if you can really tell or not, but this acorn squash itself is infested with squash bugs, it is really gross. This plot with the acorn squash probably has the worst level of infestation, this isn't too surprising though because all they have are different varieties of squash growing. They are going to be awful disappointed next time they come look at their garden.

Now even though our squash bug problem seems to be far less intense than that in other plots, we still have major problems and there is only so much we can do about it at this point. I don't really have much hope for the second zucchini plant, they haven't gotten to it yet, but I fear they will.

The garden pictures that follow were taken before we performed our attempted "remedy" for the problem. Remedy is a bad word for it, as again, there is only so much we can do at this point. We took a knife and removed all the leaves that were infested or had eggs. We ended up having to remove probably 30% or more of the leaves on our plants, which I'm sure will shock them at least a little bit. At this point, though, we didn't have much choice, we could remove the leaves and hope that the fruits that are on the plant will at least finish ripening (and cross our fingers for the off chance that it may produce some more) or leave our garden to the bugs, because they would happily take it, and probably kill everything off in a matter of weeks. We don't know if this is going to work, as there were squash bugs on the ground too, but we had to try something. We brutally murdered any adult or larger squash bugs we could find, leaving them as a warning to anyone else who wants to try to make a snack of our garden. The message is this: You might win, but some of you will pay a dear price for it. You've been warned.

After a large bags worth of leaves, bugs, and eggs were removed, we took the bag to a trash can far from the garden and anywhere else we suspected squash would be growing.

Here are the pictures of the community garden:

Luckily, at least so far, the squash bugs seem to have left our pepper and tomato plants alone. The poor pepper plants are almost invisible in the tangle that is the butternut squash. This is the best picture I could get of one, not sure you can really see it to well, but trust me, its there. :-)

Here are a few pictures of our rebounding Better Boy. It is producing some really good looking tomatoes, I can't wait until they ripen, I'm not sure what they taste like!

Here are some pictures of our butternut squash in various stages of growth - and this is nowhere near all of them. We were able to pick a couple of these today, bringing our total harvest to 11 butternuts so far. We are hoping the rest of them will ripen, but if not, we could probably make due with these butternuts and get through the winter. If stored properly, they will last a couple of months and can also be peeled, cubed, and frozen. So if any of them look like could start to "go off" before we get around to eating them, we'll freeze them for later use.

The mystery tomato plant is doing alright, I suppose. It is producing tomatoes, but they are all really gnarly, and well, not very edible looking. Neither Brett or I really even want to try them should they ripen, they look that gross. The one in this picture is the best looking on them, but trust me, they are deformed, have funky spots on them, I'm not sure what's wrong with them, but it seems as though this plant might have something. Regardless, Brett and I have agreed that we will not grow any tomatoes next year that we are unfamiliar with.

A few pictures of our Roma tomato plant. It isn't looking as good as it once did as it is producing so many tomatoes that it's branches are breaking under the weight. You can see some are in various stages of ripening. This thing really seems to be trying to produce more than it can handle. I don't think we'll complain though, we like Roma's - they make really good sauce. We have a bunch ripening in our windowsill right now (a few of these joined them after the pictures were taken) and will be making their way into my first attempt at canning salsa next weekend.

Here is a picture of our yellow straightneck squash plant. So far the squash bugs don't seem to be bothering this one very much. They laid some eggs on the leaves (which we removed), but we didn't find any leaves infested with bugs.

We picked the two larger ones after the photograph was taken, but you can see all the other little ones starting to take off. The flavor of these squash has been fantastic, I really hope these mature before the squash bugs (hopefully do not) take over.

A zucchini on our surviving plant. So far this plant doesn't appear to have too many problems, but neither did the other one and in the course of just a few days (we go to the garden multiple times a week) it was fine then dead.

And FINALLY onto our attempt at an indoor winter garden.

First off, coolers make excellent places to start seeds. In the course of a week some of the plants not only sprouted but were a few inches tall and ready to come out for some light. What was even nicer about using the cooler is that we only had to water the starts the initial time after planting the seeds and we didn't have to shuffle them all around the apartment to keep them away from the cats.

This is our little make-shift "hot house". It's just a plastic container with a lid, but being clear, it allow sunshine in, keeps a warmer, humid, and constant temperature for the starts, and keeps curious kitties out. We are seriously considering getting some really large containers to create a hot house for greens and herbs to grow in over the winter. Stay tuned, we've got some interesting ideas up our sleeve for how to make the best of our winter garden.

In the mini hot house are a few pots of carrot starts (Nantes, a short variety), and some mini bell peppers.

Here are some of our pepper starts soaking up some sun in our windowsill. As you can see, this is also where our tomatoes finish ripening.

A little hint, not sure if you all noticed, but we used the containers that our pepper starts came in last year to start seeds. They work great and can hold the peppers until they get large enough to transfer to their permanent home. I love reusing things!

A couple of containers of jalapeno starts. It's hard to believe that we're already going to have to start "thinning out their numbers" pretty soon. It took a few weeks for our pepper seeds to germinate last year, let alone popping out of the soil and getting this big in less than two weeks. This is really a testament to starting seeds in a cooler!

A container full of cayenne peppers. As you can see we are attempting to grow my two favorite hot peppers indoors, the cayenne and jalapeno. It would be habaneros, but Brett is a little concerned at my level of spicy food intake, so he put his foot down and said no more habanero plants after ours died earlier in the season.

We transplanted our cucumbers and One Ball Squash today and put them in what will, hopefully, be their permanent homes.

You can't really see it, but there are 4 cucumbers planted in the long "window box". You might be wondering why it's on top of the bookshelf as well, and there are a number of reasons. First, it fits perfectly. Second, that part of the room gets a good deal of sunlight, especially during the winter. Third, well, heat rises, so we figured it would be a good place for a more warm weather crop. Forth, the cats cannot get to it. And finally, by putting it up high, it will hopefully vine down the side of the bookshelf eliminated the need for any sort of trellising.

If you are wondering how we plan on pollinating these things inside, should we be fortunate enough to get them that far, you can use a paintbrush and light brush a flower and then move on to the next flower and do the same thing. Voila! That is all it takes to pollinate something!

These are our One Ball Squash starts. We chose this variety of squash as the fruits are fairly small, and from my research I gathered that the smaller fruits had a better chance of making it indoors.

They also seem really overpotted and there isn't as much dirt in there as there could be. First off, they are overpotted, but squash grow really quickly and that won't be the case (hopefully) for long. We also tried to make sure to leave plenty of room for food and will add more dirt as the plants get larger. We have this guy tucked away in a sunny corner in our bedroom. Before all is said and done our apartment will be our garden, it's looking like there will be food crops in every room. We will probably eventually have to get some trellising or figure out a way to stake these up, otherwise, if they vine out too much, I won't be able to get into my closet.

And I know we said that we weren't going to update on the status of the avocado tree recently, but it really seems to be taking to our apartment well and has tons of new growth so we thought we'd share some pictures of it. I apologize about the lighting and the brightness, I really don't know how to use our spaceship of a camera very well.

If you made it to the end of this post, I hope you learned something. I bet you need a snack or at the very least to stretch your legs! I know I do after writing it! Whew!

'Til next time!
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