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Friday PhotoEssay – September 25, 2015

It is the last Friday in September, and while the sad appearance of the tomatoes and squash certainly bear this out, it has been warm enough that it doesn’t really seem like fall yet.
We took out a couple more tomato plants this week, and in doing so made an unhappy discovery:

Roots infected with nematodes! UGH! This is actually a pretty bad infestation because the roots are very swollen and knobby. Well, the nematode-free soil was nice while it lasted. As we continue to remove tomato plants, we will keep a close eye on the roots to see how much of a problem it is. It may be confined to just a section of the bed, and we will try to manage it using rotations, non-susceptible plants, and nematode-suppressing plants.

For comparison, the roots on the left/on top of the others are healthy tomato roots. Nice and smooth, slender, and white.

Our Saturday Sampler this past weekend featured a wide variety of recipes made from the Cushaw squash, including this scrumptious pie. Here are the recipes in case you missed them: Winter Squash

These are from the ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ plants. (Except the one Italian Gold.) The plants look like they are winding down, although I found several hidden tomatoes this morning. Several of the fruit also look like they have some Bacterial Spot, which is a little abnormal for this time of year, but not too surprising given the colder, rainer spells we’ve had. There’s nothing to do about it now, other than use the tomatoes quickly.

If you would have asked me a couple of weeks ago if the Blue Lake Pole bean was going to grow up the trellis, let alone flower and produce beans before it got too cold, I would have called you crazy! But look at this…flowers, and tiny green beans!

Have a great weekend!

Friday PhotoEssay – September 11, 2015

The Demo Garden has an Instagram account! Check us out @thedemogarden on Instagram. You can see a few pictures on a more regular basis.

The garden is still looking good after the rain this week. That said, on close inspection a lot of the plants are looking tired, so don’t feel bad if your garden isn’t perfectly beautiful anymore. The lovely lettuce in the close bed is looking a little bit skimpy today, and you will see why in the next picture.

The nice thing about growing red lettuce is that the green caterpillars show up really well. They have been having quite the feast on the lettuce, because it has gone from looking lush to munched in just two days. I had to go out and buy an insecticide this afternoon, because I was pretty sure the lettuce would have been dead by Monday.

When you are dealing with caterpillars, my preference is to use one of two organic products: spinosad or Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) dust. Because we only have a small area planted to lettuce, I bought a ready-to-use spinosad spray. Hopefully the lettuce is strong enough to put on new growth from the roots for this fall.

Since we are on the “death and destruction” theme today, I noticed that most of the leaves that had powdery mildew are gone (dead) since last week, although there are a few (like this one) still showing symptoms. I’m not 100% sure which variety is the susceptible one, but I rather suspect it is the ‘Butterpie.’

I know it is hard to tell because of the light, but most of the rest of the vines, including this one have huge, healthy green leaves. No sign of powdery mildew! I’m glad we have some great resistant varieties, I’m just bummed that I’m not sure which variety is which.

This time of year it is very common to see some big, crunchy grasshoppers. Here in town, they usually are around but not a huge problem like they can be in more rural areas. I think they are very attractive and photogenic – when there’s just a few of them. They can be huge at this time of year! They are not easy to kill right now, other than by smashing, so unless you have a major infestation, don’t bother trying to spray anything.

If your tomatoes look awful, don’t worry! Ours do to. It is natural for this time of year. They are working on ripening the last flush of tomatoes as we move into the cooler parts of fall. Incidentally, this picture is the ‘Beefy Boy’ which I gave a generally favorable review to earlier in the summer. I finally had a chance to taste one, and it is quite good. That means a lot, coming from someone who doesn’t generally care for red tomatoes!

Have a great weekend!

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!

Two Fennel Recipes

One of the things we had in the Fall Italian Garden was bulbing fennel, which you may sometimes see in the grocery store labeled “Anise.”

This is the fennel that was harvested before the cold weather set in a couple weeks ago. Most of it was pretty good sized. As a recap, we started the seeds indoors and then transplanted in early August. It is edible at any size of bulb development, and I know that sometimes people like the smaller ones to roast whole. The bulbs were good sized a few weeks before we harvested, but I always like to see how big we can grow things in the fall and how long they will last in the garden.

So…what do you do with bulb fennel? I had tried a fennel gratin recipe several years ago that was pretty disgusting, so I went looking for some better options. I ended up with a recipe for Roasted Fennel, Carrots, & Shallots and another recipe for a Radicchio, Fennel, and Olive Panzanella (bread salad). It was a bonus, since we had radicchio in the garden too!

I cut the tops off the fennel, quartered it, rinsed it well (there was some dirt between the layers, but not too much), and tossed the pieces with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

I sliced the carrots, and topped the red bunching onions. The original recipe called for shallots, but I had a whole bunch of these red bunching onions from the garden as well that were pretty sweet, so I opted to use them instead. These were also tossed with oil, salt, and pepper, then spread on a baking sheet.

Everything was roasted at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until tender.

The finished product! (Technically the recipe called for garnishing with parsley and a few fronds from the fennel tops. Oh well.) This dish was a huge hit, even though it was so simple. Sometimes the simple dishes are the best. Almost everyone really enjoyed the flavor of the roasted fennel.

The second recipe was actually a bit more complex, even though it was a salad. I also didn’t manage to get pictures of every step, so bear with me. Here’s a link to the original recipe: Radicchio, Fennel, and Olive Panzanella.

The first step was to toast the bread. The cubes of bread were tossed with lemon zest, oil, salt, and pepper. Then they were toasted in the oven until just crisp. (Not all the way to crouton stage.)

The dressing was pretty simple: minced shallot (I subbed the red onion again), chopped parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper, all whisked together.

The fennel was easy to deal with. I just took a couple of the smaller bulbs and thinly sliced them. Done!

Then the radicchio…

Eew! When I harvested it, the outer leaves looked good, but as I peeled it down to the inner head, I got to this slimy layer. I don’t know if this is normal, if the plants were too crowded, if it was too warm and wet for most of the fall, or what the story was. I’m sure that many of you, getting to this point, would have just chucked the whole thing in the trash and moved on. Luckily you have me to delve through the slime to find out if there was anything good underneath!

What do you know! There was something worth having! One of the heads that I stripped down still had some good green leaves before getting to the red interior leaves. The others needed to be cleaned further, down to the red leaves. But the radicchio “hearts” were just fine to use. No sliminess in evidence at all.

Here’s the bigger “green exterior” head sliced. The center is nice and red. (Recap again: the radicchio was also started inside and transplanted in early August.”)

The final salad: the bread, radicchio, and fennel were tossed, as well as some halved green olives, chopped parsley, a little cheese, some salami and the dressing. It was a colorful and interesting salad. Because the greens were all radicchio, it had a stronger, more bitter flavor than our American palates are used to. Some people really liked it and others didn’t care for it. To make it appeal to a broader audience, I added some sweet lettuces (like bibb lettuce) to cut the bitter greens a bit. The fennel really wasn’t very prominent in this dish by the time everything else was added, but it was a great use for radicchio!