Friday PhotoEssay – August 28th

I can hardly believe that it is almost September. Well…until I look at our sad tomato plants. Then I can believe it! The overnight temps are also cool enough that we decided to go ahead and plant some of the lettuce this week.

Overall, everything still looks like a jungle in the garden.

The fascinating fasciation on the squash vine I showed you last week continues to develop. It could be pretty neat to see how much crazier the end of the vine gets before the end of the season.

Our peppers have been pretty pitiful this year, so I’m trying not to judge any of the varieties overly harshly. This is the ‘Sweet Sunshine’ that was billed as an “edible ornamental.” It was supposed to look like an ornamental pepper, but the peppers were supposed to taste like the sweet snack peppers. It is just barely beginning to set fruit, so it isn’t nearly as attractive as an ornamental. The peppers are tiny, and while the flavor is good, each pepper is about half a bite. It’s just not worth it!

We planted the lettuce seeds 3 weeks ago, and the plants are looking good! I have some new lights in my office, and everything looks great. We planted some of the transplants out in the tallest raised bed where we had potatoes earlier in the year, with the theory that the rabbits can’t get to them. We are going to try some type of rabbit fence to keep them out of the lower beds. This is (surprisingly) the first year we’ve had a rabbit problem in the garden. We’ve had squirrels in the past, but they don’t care about the lettuce.

We’ve had Swiss Chard in the garden all year long, and I’ve barely taken a single picture of it. For those of you that are long-time readers, you will know how impressive that is. We’ve been harvesting it regularly, so it has stayed more at the salad size than getting bigger into the “cooking” size. The leaves have also stayed very clean and disease free, considering the amount of rain we’ve had. I would guess that the regular harvesting combined with the plants being pretty isolated in a spot with good airflow has really helped.

We replanted the beans 3 or 4 weeks ago as well, and it is interesting to see the differences in growth and germination. One variety didn’t even come up! The ‘Carminat’ pole bean pictured here has really taken off and grown well. The ‘Blue Lake’ pole bean on the other side of the trellis really hasn’t started climbing yet. I’ll be surprised to see if we get many beans before it gets too cold.

Have a great weekend!

Friday PhotoEssay – August 21, 2015

We seem to be in a bit of a late summer lull in the Demo Garden. We have a few things going for fall, the tomatoes are looking worse every week, and the squash aren’t quite ready to harvest.

As you can see, the tomatoes continue to look more grey or brown than green, even though the tops of the plants are a little bit crazy. The beans we planted a couple weeks ago are up, but the spider mites seem to have attacked immediately. Luckily it is a bit cooler, keeping the mites slowed down somewhat.

For the third year in a row, the begonias and coleus planted in this section of the garden look amazing! I’ll be honest that I don’t love begonias, but they are stunning in this spot.

In this wheelchair barrel planter, we had potatoes in the spring that did extremely well. Since then, we tried planting beans but they didn’t grow well. It seemed silly to think of a nutrient deficiency when the potatoes did so well. But then we planted radishes, and it was clear two weeks ago (above) that the leaves were pale yellow and stunted. Below you can see the improvement.
We fertilized and although there is still a bit of chlorosis (yellowing) they have grown well. We often forget with vegetable gardens that when we harvest a crop we are taking all of the nutrients from those vegetables out of the soil and consuming them. Just because a spot produced well last year or in the spring doesn’t mean that it won’t need additional fertilizer or compost before planting another crop. Maintaining and building our soil is a continual process!

This is something cool that you don’t see every day! This is one of the vines of the ‘Tromboncino’ squash. One of the neat things is that the seeds were planted at the other end of the bed and this plant has climbed all the way to the opposite corner of the bed. The other neat thing is that the vine has gone from round to flattened. This is a phenomenon called “fasciation.” A mutation happened at some point during growth and that mutation continued to manifest in all future growth on this vine. It doesn’t hurt anything, but it is a bit bizarre.

This is also the ‘Tromboncino,’ but these squash are a much darker green color than the others have been. I don’t know if this is a different vine (genetic variation of the seeds), if this is related to the mutation causing the fasciation shown above, or if this is a different mutation. The vines are such a jumble that I don’t think it is possible to sort out at this point. Anyway, it’s interested to all of a sudden have different colored squash!

I also caught this praying mantis hanging out on one of the squash last week. They can eat many insects, including grasshoppers, but I wonder if this one has been feasting on squash bugs?

Have a great weekend!

Tomato Variety Review for 2015

As usual, we have a range of tomato varieties in the Demo Garden and not all of them have been spectacular performers. Others have been pleasant surprises. I haven’t had the opportunity to taste every variety this year, so the flavor information isn’t complete. However, in regard to general plant health and yield I feel like we have a pretty good idea for how the varieties are performing.

‘Italian Gold’– This is an heirloom, yellow roma tomato. It was a last minute substitution, and I’ll admit to being skeptical. However, it is by far the most prolific variety in the garden. The flavor is actually slightly more acidic than I would typically expect from a yellow tomato. Is there something about yellow romas? We tried ‘Golden Rave’ roma a few years back to great success. The plant is a very vigorous indeterminate, and although the disease and spider mites are making the plant look ugly now, it hasn’t slowed production.

‘Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye’ – This is a relatively new variety, but one that I would consider an “heirloom-type” tomato. It is open pollinated, but recent. However, it has color and flavor characteristics that you would consider heirloom. As you can kind of tell in this picture, the tomato is dark red/purple with green stripes. I love the stripes, but some people do find them off-putting. That said, the stripes are only skin deep! The flavor of this tomato is great, although it is rather prone to cracking. I don’t think the cracks have been worse than several of the other varieties though. I grew this at home last year and the yield was spectacular. These plants aren’t quite as good, but not too bad as far as yield goes.

‘Beefy Boy’ – This hybrid has great yields of large fruit. As you can see, there has been some cracking, but no more so than other similar varieties (i.e. – Celebrity, etc). I haven’t had a chance to specifically taste this variety, so I can’t vouch for flavor.

Cherry Tomatoes – ‘Yellow Pear,’ ‘Chocolate Cherry,’ and ‘Sweet Million’ are the three cherry tomatoes we have in the garden this year. Unfortunately, we had to remove the yellow pear due to a wilt disease, but the yield before it succumbed was great. Of course, flavor on all of these was good and we still have plenty of cherry tomatoes to harvest.

‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ is a new variety that is also an All-America Selections winner for 2014. When fully ripe it has a beautiful orange color. It also has a very good flavor. I would consider it to be sweeter and milder than most red tomatoes, but perhaps more flavorful than your average yellow tomato. Our plants have performed very well. The vines are vigorous, but not too crazy, the fruit are good sized, and the yield has been good as well. Not as good as Beefy Boy (see above), but definitely on par with Celebrity (see below). Crack-wise…well…minimal to no cracks! That’s a win!

‘Indigo Apple’ – This is one of the “Indigo” series tomatoes that has the purple/indigo pigmentation on the shoulders. This varieties produces 2-4 oz. fruit, so a little smaller than most tomatoes, but larger than a cherry tomato. We tried ‘Indigo Rose’ (a cherry tomato) in the garden a few years ago and were definitely under-whelmed by the flavor. Yuck! So I’ll be honest that when I was preparing to try this one, I was steeling myself for the “it’s a tomato but I really wish I hadn’t just eaten that” experience. BUT I was pleasantly surprised. It had a nice fresh, acid flavor. It wasn’t extremely sweet, nor was it extremely bland. Yield-wise it has been fairly productive and the plants look okay. No cracking that I’ve seen!

‘Celebrity’ – Most of you are probably familiar with this stand-by variety. Lots of people love it, although I’m not a huge fan. I feel like it cracks worse than it is worth, although everything comparable is cracking this year. The yield isn’t quite as good as ‘Beefy Boy’ (above), but it is better than the other red slicers.

‘Mountain Merit’ and ‘Phoenix’ – These are both determinate varieties that are supposed to be crack resistant and somewhat heat tolerant. Both varieties have one plant that is small and looks awful with no production after the first flush of fruit. The other plant of both varieties is larger and still producing a bit. Both varieties are coated with spider mites. I haven’t tasted either of these, but the yields are lower than other varieties. That said, because the plants are smaller you should be able to plant more of them in the same amount of space, resulting in higher potential total yield. I can’t definitely report on the crack resistance…the few fruit still on the plants look a little bit better than ‘Beefy Boy’ and ‘Celebrity.’

Are you trying any different tomato varieties this year? What’s doing well for you?

Friday PhotoEssay – August 7, 2015

Another week, another downpour, more squash bugs and spider mites! This gardening season has certainly come with its share of challenges in the Demo Garden, and I’m sure you are experiencing the same things at home.

The general overview shows that things are still looking pretty green, although the tomatoes are looking a little sickly with all the spider mites. The squash are still looking pretty good, despite the onslaught of squash bugs.

The ‘Tromboncino’ squash are still producing steadily. I prefer that over getting too many zucchini! I captured this image this morning while the squash blossoms were still open. Female squash flowers have the immature fruit behind the flower and then the fruit continues to develop following pollination. I thought it was pretty neat to see how big the squash is already in this case, even before pollination! You could even harvest the squash at this point and stuff the flower with cheeses and herbs, then saute as is.

We are starting to see more squash bugs on the trellised squash. It isn’t unexpected, but nice that it held off until now. We are picking off eggs and nymphs as we see them as well as spraying once a week. We have also seen a couple of vine borers that our Master Gardeners caught early and tried the “surgery” method of cutting them out of the stems. So far we have no casualties of squash vine borers, which is a win in my book!

Our Quiet Garden area is looking beautiful right now. There are several coleus, begonia, and impatiens varieties that are showing their colors in good form. These are all varieties that are either on our Prairie Star list of recommended annuals or they are in the trial right now to determine if they are worthy of being on the list.

I noticed a few squash in the zucchini area that are showing this grey mold. It looks like it is primarily on squash that were not successfully pollinated, thus being more likely to rot. That predisposition to rot, combined with the rain this week and the density of the stems and leaves has probably resulted in the grey mold. The best thing to do is to just remove squash like this ASAP to prevent the mold spreading to other squash or the stems.

The Master Gardeners planted some lettuce seeds for transplanting outside later this month. Starting the seeds indoors and transplanting is one way to make lettuce available to harvest earlier in the fall than if we were to wait until the weather is cool enough to plant seeds outdoors. I usually plan on about 4 weeks from when we plant seeds to when the plants are ready to go out in the garden.

This is ‘New Gold’ Lantana that is planted in the containers near the garden entrance. It is looking spectacular right now! This variety is on our Prairie Star Annuals list as a variety that thrives in Kansas and blooms consistently all summer. It definitely looks like a winner this year.

Have a great weekend!

Bean Variety Review, Part 1

Our Bean trial garden has finished up the first planting as of a couple weeks ago and we are now on to the second planting. I wanted to take the opportunity to give you a few thoughts on how the varieties performed from the spring planting. We planted different varieties earlier this week for the fall season.

Our beans got off to a bit of a rough start this spring with cool, wet soils. We think we had some seed corn maggot in the soil causing problems. The beans finally took off when it got warmer and did quite well.

‘Contender’ Green Snap Bush Bean

This is an old variety that has been around since 1949. The beans aren’t always the most beautiful shaped, but this was by far the earliest producing and highest yielding of all the varieties we planted this spring. Sometimes the oldies are the goodies!

‘Golden Rod’ Yellow Snap Bush Bean

Another older variety, I would consider the yield was acceptable, but not spectacular. In fact, I’ve seen us have higher yields on this variety before. That said, there may be other yellow varieties, like ‘Rocdor,’ that perform better.

‘Velour’ Purple Filet Bush Bean

This is a relatively new filet bean variety. I’ve decided after this year that I like the idea of filet beans (meaning the pods are more slender and theoretically more tender), but I don’t like the reality of them. There were times when this variety was loaded with beans, as you can see in the picture above, but the yield felt paltry because of the petite size of the beans. However, if that doesn’t bother you, I think the yield for this variety was quite good.

A note though – purple beans will turn green when you cook them. My family always planted purple beans rather than green beans because my dad liked the flavor better. Whether that is true or not it’s hard to say. You’ll have to test it out for yourself!

‘Dragon Tongue’ Flat Podded Bush Bean

This heirloom bean doesn’t really fit into any category. It is typically pale green to yellow with purple streaks when ready to harvest. You can also let it to until you harvest it for the bean seeds. While an interesting novelty, the yield was poor at best.

‘Jade II’ Green Snap Bush Bean

This is a more recent variety that boasts straighter pods and dark green color. It’s a little hard to tell, but the beans definitely were a darker green than the ‘Contender’ beans and had much better shape. This variety is also longer to maturity, making it a good option to extend the producing season a bit. So, from all those standpoints it seemed to live up to its billing. Since we weren’t specifically weighing the yields, it is a bit difficult to compare the yields with ‘Contender.’ I think it seemed a bit less, but it’s hard to say for sure. The Master Gardeners who were working with these beans all summer were very definite that ‘Contender’ was the most productive. Still, if pod straightness and color are important to you, this would be a good choice.

‘Carminat’ Purple Pole Bean and ‘Blue Lake’ Pole Bean

As per our expectation, the pole beans grew well, but produced next to nothing. We got a few beans from the ‘Carminat’ but the ‘Blue Lake’ plants were just starting to bloom when the spider mites arrived. We pulled everything down and replanted to see if the fall season is any better for the pole beans.

Varieties that have been planted for the fall include: ‘Provider,’ ‘Masai,’ ‘Romano Gold,’ ‘Amethyst,’ and ‘Carson.’ We also replanted the pole beans.

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