The Amazing Technicolor Harvest

It’s amazing!

This was a good week in the garden.

After surviving another heat spell (okay, okay, it was only one day…haha), the weather turned almost fall-like. Not only has it been a joy to be outside lately, but the tomatoes in the garden seem to be okay with the temperature change as well. At least, our most recent harvests said so, as evidenced by the picture above! It looks a little like fall, right? This represents about half a week’s-worth of tomatoes. Let’s see…here we have the yellow-orange Sunpeach Hybrids (some of which might be Yellow Gooseberries, but we’re not sure), red and green streaked Chocolate Sprinkles, little red Baby Boomers, a number of Yellow Pears , at least one almost-ready Rutgers Hybrid, and a few medium-sized purplish Gypsy tomatoes. And no, you’re not imagining things if you think you see peppers – there are a almost-ripe mini orange bell peppers, as well as a handful of green (and one red) chilies. It’s a veritable rainbow of goodness!

As you can see, we’ve had the best success this year with small tomatoes. We’re sure that if we had gotten the plants on the ground sooner that we’d have had a good harvest of larger tomatoes by now. As it stands, most of the larger tomatoes that are growing are still quite green. But we certainly don’t mind the smaller ones, as they are incredibly versatile.

This past weekend, we roasted the larger tomatoes (which included a few others that had split and were being stored in the fridge), and made a delicious sauce. We then split a ton of the smaller ones and dehydrated them.

This grouping of dried tomatoes represents five trays-worth of split cherry tomatoes! It’s rather incredible that that many tomatoes are little more than a small pile right now, but they sure are. If all these tomatoes weren’t already varying degrees of sweet, now they are super intense! Sweet and super tomato-y. They’re wonderful in salads or thrown on top of hot pasta drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. And as long as we keep them cool and dry, they should last for several weeks. Well…if we don’t eat them all first!

Judging on how things look outside, we should be in for some pole bean harvesting soon. And hopefully we’ll have more tomatoes to come!

 

 

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A Short Report

It’s been a relatively quiet week in the garden, so there’s not much to report this week. Nearly all the squash plants are officially done, sadly. We picked the one yellow zucchini that had been growing, but found that although it looked nice on the outside. the insides were a bit…well, squishy. There’s one single zucchini plant left, and there’s one single zucchini growing from it. The plants is doing okay — it seems to have escaped the brunt of the squash beetles. We’ll see if it survives long enough to keep the zucchini growing for a bit longer.

We haven’t yet got around to clearing out the bed, as we spent much of the past weekend doing some late summer cleaning inside. That, plus planning for the second round of work on our upstairs bathroom. Renovations work has slowed considerably since the summer heat really hit. Our second floor becomes unbearably hot during the summer months — no amount of air conditioning or fans seems to help, so we haven’t been able to spend much time up there recently. The next step is drywall, and it’s a big one since we don’t really have a way to get drywall to the house, short of having it delivered. So we’re making plans to have that happen.

Moving back outside, and on a more positive note, we got an incredibly full second harvest of string beans! Over the course of the past couple predominantly rainy weeks (topped off here by a gorgeously sunny weekend), the beans were steadily making their second showing. We didn’t realize just how many beans were out there, though! Now we’re back to more beans that you can shake a stick at. The same is true of the tomatoes. We go out just about every other day to gather up more and more. We’re making tomato sauce pretty regularly, which is perfectly fine by us. We’ve got our “recipe” down to a point were the sauce turns out nicely balanced, not too sweet and not too acidic.

Add a little olive oil, salt, and peppers., and these tomatoes are ready to roast!
These are a few of our Rutgers tomatoes, along with a miniature orange pepper that came from one of our potted pepper plants. The pepper was deliciously sweet! Soooo much better than the ones from the grocery store.

All in all, things are moving along as as well as they can be. It’s been a good summer so far, and it’s not over yet. Looks like the heat of August will be ramping up considerably soon — hopefully it will press some of the tomatoes towards ripening. If even half of the current crop ripens before the first frost, we’ll be up to our ears in tomatoes! And what a sight that would be. 🙂

Squash woes and tomato throes

Despite our best efforts, it’s looking like we’re going to have to say goodbye to this year’s squash crop. Yes, we tried everything we could to save the plants from an outbreak of squash bugs, but almost all the plants, save for one and a few small regrowths, are gone. As of today, we’re giving the plants till this weekend until we make the final call.

This side isn’t great, but it’s not as bad as…

 

…this side. 😦 RIP squash.

On the good side of things, the castile soap has worked a bit of magic…either than or it’s simply the end of the squash bugs’ cycle…but no matter, the fact is that there are far fewer squash bugs than there once were. Like we said, maybe they all simply grew up and flew away, but we do think that the soap made a difference, especially on the surviving plant. On it we did find several bugs, but they skedaddled (to other plants?) not too long after we did our first castile soap spray. The real key now is trying to prevent them next year, which means getting rid of any and all squash detritus. That’s the plan for the coming weekend. Anything that looks promising will stay, but the rest has to be cleaned out. The best thing we can do at this point is make sure that we clean up any rotting plants now so that no squash bugs can overwinter in any refuse.

Beyond the squash, we’ve still got beans and cucumbers coming and…and tomatoes! LOTS of tomatoes! At least, quite a lot more than we thought would make it.

A basket full of goodness!

After getting such a late start with things this year, we were a little worried that the tomatoes simply wouldn’t produce until it was too late. But we had one volunteer tomato show up that’s changed everything. A couple weeks ago, we picked the first of those tomatoes — we’re pretty sure they are Sun Sugar Hybrid cherry tomatoes.  And shortly thereafter, we start harvesting a few more from the plant more every day. Even though we were using at least in salads each week, before too long, we ended up with a basket-full! In an among the golden orange Sun Sugar tomatoes, we also have a plant producing small reddish-orange ones — these may be Sun Peach Hybrids or some variation.  In addition, we also have a number of Chocolate Sprinkles tomato plants that are really coming along, even though few of the fruits have ripened. They produce pretty green- and red-mottled, oblong cherry tomatoes. We also picked a couple Green Vernissage to try (but we don’t think they are quite ripe enough yet.) All in all, it’s a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness!

Over the weekend, we turned about three-quarters of our haul into a wonderfully sweet/tart creamy tomato sauce (delectable with cheese ravioli). We discovered that although the Sun Sugar tomatoes are generally sweet, the Sun Peach ones are sweetly acidic. Together, they made the sauce a little more bitter than we expected, hence the addition of cream.

This is definitely turning out to be a year of accepting the bad along with the good in the garden. The situation with the squash is unfortunate, but it certainly taught us some new stuff about garden maintenance and garden pests. We’re already planned on plant squash in a different formation next year. (Knowledge is power!) Now, we looking forward to enjoying a late summer and early fall with our tomatoes. That’s just how it should be.

The year’s second update in pictures

Hello, all! It’s time once again to take another picture trip around the garden. We’ve got a lot of images to get through, so let’s move onto the gallery (in no particular order), post haste!


Starting at the back of the yard, the tomatoes there are doing alright, even the ones that were in danger of being crushed by that branch. (There’s one plant that is doing poorly – back right. That barrel has drainage problems, which we’ve tried to address to no avail.)

From one of the tomato barrels. Looking promising! By the way, this looks to be our year for cherry tomatoes – they are doing really well all around!

Also around back, we found a lone basil plant just doing its thing. Being basil.

Moving over the squash bed, things aren’t looking so hot. Our attempt at ridding the bed of squash bugs worked a little but not enough. There aren’t as many squash bugs as there were, but the survivors are still wrecking havoc. It’s a process.

Despite the squash bugs, we still have squash, like this gorgeous yellow zucchini that will be picked as soon as the end of its green stem turns yellow. There also another green squash peeking out on the left.

And here’s a baby zucchini that just might make it…we hope!

This is the volunteer tomato living in the squash bed. We thought it was a Yellow Gooseberry or Sunpeach Hybrid, but no, it’s actually a Sun Sugar Hybrid. (We can tell in that the tomatoes are turning orange rather than straight yellow or red.) These are super sweet and tasty – really good in salads.

In the other stone bed, our tomatoes are coming along…slowly. Which is a little surprising considering how warm it’s been lately. By the way, the frilly stuff is asparagus.

 

These are supposed to be 42-day tomatoes, according to their name. They’ve taken that long and then some just to get to this stage!

More cherry tomatoes. So many cherry tomatoes!

At the end of the tomato bed, we have a bushel of ground cherries. We didn’t plant a single seed – they came back on their own…much to the delight of the squirrels…unfortunately.

A grand shot of all (or most of) our beans.

After mulching with dry grass, the bush beans are loving life. We’re still harvesting them every week, and more are back on the way.

Meanwhile, the pole beans are doing great. (All this helps make up for the poor, poor squash.)

Over in the raised beds, the cucumbers in the first one are a mixed bag. Some of the plants couldn’t be happier, while others are just okay. After taking this picture, we picked three more cukes to add to the stash, so they can’t be doing that bad!

You can barely see raised bed #2 thanks to the Nema-Gone marigold that simply went wild! Seriously, that giant bush on the left is a marigold. We plan to replant some greens in the bed soon, so it’s possible that the marigold might have to transplanted.

Raised bed #3 used to have peas in it, but the rabbits quickly changed our plans. Instead, now there’s marigolds, tomatoes, and peppers. At least something is growing!

The fourth and final raised bed is all about flowers right now. As with the second raised bed, we hope to replant some greens/lettuces here in the coming weeks.

On the side of the house, we have more tomatoes, and they are actually coming along pretty well. Late though, as with everything else.
We’ll end here with a couple of our potted plants – that’s a blackberry on the right and an orange bell pepper on the left. We’re actually getting blackberries! They’re sour, yes, but we’re glad that the plant is doing okay. And we’ll be harvesting these little peppers just as soon as they turn bright orange.

Well, how that’s for a grand garden gallery! And after looking at all these pictures, we’re off to do a little weeding now, as it seems like it’s about time for a little maintenance. 🙂

Ack! Squash Bugs!

We knew something was up about a week ago when a few of our squash plants started looking, well…rather bad. This was particularly true of our volunteer squash, which went from strong and green to yellowed and wilty seemingly overnight.

Something’s up, and it’s not good.

The culprit, it turned out, was…and still is…squash bugs.

They look a little like Shield Bugs, but they are rounder.

Yuck. And double yuck.

Too many creepy-crawlies…ewww

So, here’s the thing. Since day one, we’ve striven to make a pesticide-free garden. We’ve seen and death with lots of bugs since our very first plantings, from aphids and tomato worms to too many beetles to count. We’ve let nature take it’s course, using natural remedies only as a last resort. This situation almost made us rethink things, because…it’s bad. Really bad. Because of all the problematic bugs, destructive squash beetles have to be among the worst. Unchecked, they’ll tear through a bed of squash plants in no time. Unfortunately, given how busy we’ve been with non-garden work this summer and how late we noticed the infestation, it may be too late for our squash.

More sadness.

[sigh]
Still, that doesn’t mean we’re giving up! Oh no, upon finding far too many baby squash beetles crawling all over our plants, we went out and got some peppermint castile soap. Castile soap can be used as a natural insecticide, for one, and supposedly squash beetles don’t like peppermint. We tried the soap — a mixture of 1/4 cup of soap to a quart of water — for the first time this past weekend, after waiting for a few bouts of rain to subside. And…it’s working? Well, we think it might be. The baby squash bugs are still on the plants, but they aren’t in their normal clusters. Instead, they’ve scattered. And there may be a couple less adult bugs. But it’s too early to tell. We’ll respray the plants every few days over the next couple weeks and hope for the best. Interestingly, the bugs only seem to enjoy a couple particular plants, namely the zucchini and butternut squash. A few of the plants look to be untouched, though it seems they all have signs of squash beetle eggs, at least. So the whole bed is getting sprayed, regardless.

While that whole situation stinks, there are some good things that have happened and are happening in the garden. For one, we picked a bunch of cucumbers and made a couple batches of bread and butter pickles.

Just need to hold off on opening them for a few weeks. Gonna be tough!

Our volunteer tomato plant turned out to be a yellow cherry tomato of some sort, and it’s been producing like mad!

These could be Yellow Gooseberries, Sunpeach Hybrids, or some other variation. Whatever they are, they are very sweet! The green ones are a variety called Green Vernissage – they were free seeds we got this year.

Oh, and flowers! Our snapdragons have come along nicely, and we’ve now got strawflowers! They are much taller than we expected, and they have prettiest blooms. Their petals feel slightly papery, hence the “straw” in their name.

The Black Prince snapdragons are a deep maroon…
…while the Apple Blossom snapdragons are a pretty shade of pink.
The strawflowers have the most gorgeous blooms!
This one’s reminiscent of a daisy – so lovely!

That’ll do it for another week. We’ll be back next time with our second round-up in pictures…and hopefully some of them will show improvement in the squash!

More beans than you can shake a stick at

Over the past few weeks, warmish temperatures and a steady dose of rain have helped our beans — bush beans, pole beans, and string beans — proliferate like mad! The beans have been growing far faster than we could ever eat them, and this past weekend, we found ourselves with a definite surplus.

This was our most recent harvest – a nice selection of purple and wax string beans, along with hearty Rattlesnake pole beans (the large green ones with the red streaks). Oh, and also a couple cherry tomatoes for good measure. 🙂

We also made our first harvest of shelling beans!

A couple varieties, still in their pods.

These turned out to be Tiger Eye beans (a bush variety) and Fort Portal Jade (a pole variety).

On the left are the extremely pretty and green Fort Portal beans – dried at top and raw at the bottom. On the right are the Tiger Eyes – raw ones at the top and dried ones, with their distinct maroon markings on gold, at the bottom. The ones in the middle are also Tiger Eyes, but they turned out all maroon for whatever reason.

While there are more Fort Portal beans to come, it looks like the Tiger Eye plants have had their say. As with beans, they might be done, or they might re-blossom later in the summer.

But, back to the busload of string beans. A much as we’ve been enjoying them simply steamed with dinner, we decided to do something a little different this past weekend, and make them into a light and delicious salad. We regularly make a Three-Bean Salad, but we wanted something a little different, so we turned to our trust Betty Crocker recipe book and found a little inspiration in the form of a “Tangy Vegetable Salad.” But we didn’t have everything on hand for that particular recipe, so we improvised. Here’s our version, which we’ll call “Simple Vegetable Salad (That’s Mostly String Beans).”


Simple Vegetable Salad (That’s Mostly String Beans)

Ingredients
  • 2-3 cups of coarsely chopped fresh string beans
  • approximately 1/2 cup (or so) each of chopped onion, carrots, peppers, and squash (we used a red pepper and summer squash, but any varieties could work)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Instructions

1. Gather all vegetables together; gather together ingredients for dressing.

Veggies, check.
Dressing ingredients, check.

2. Boil a little water (about 1/2 cup or so) in a large saucepan, and dump in the vegetables. Cook in boiling water for five minutes.

So pretty. It’s a little sad that the purple beans have to turn green when cooked.

3. After five minutes, drain the vegetable and rinse with cool water. Set aside.

See…no purple. Still delicious, though.

4. Place dressing ingredients into a small screw-top jar and shake vigorously to combine.

More shaking needed…

5. Place drained vegetables in a large bowl and pour over dressing. Stir gently, cover bowl, then place bowl in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

Delish!

5. While salad is chilling, stir occasionally until ready to serve. When serving, use a slotted spoon.


This is an excellent summer salad – light, filling, and refreshing. And it’s super quick to make! (Who wants to turn on the oven in 100 degree heat, anyway?!) One thing to note is that you could also used white wine or red wine vinegar for the dressing. And really, you could use just about any combination of vegetables. The original recipe called for cauliflower and the addition of sliced olives at the end. But our results turned out to be simply delicious. And that’s what’s important. 🙂

 

 

 

 

When a tree falls in the woods…

…and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That’s how the old philosophical question goes. But whether or not it makes a sound, the tree still falls, and that’s what matters. Only in our case, it was just a branch. That fell. Okay, maybe we need to go back to the beginning. (It’s not a very long journey.)

Friday evening after dinner, we gazed out upon the garden as we often do. It was then that we noticed something out of the ordinary. Basically, it looked as if a tree had unknowingly sprouted, full-sized, from the back bushes – where we have a small flowering tree that’s been overtaken by honeysuckle and pokeweed. Upon further gazing, we saw that it wasn’t a tree at all, but a huge branch from the adjacent tree, and it was completely covering our back barrels of tomatoes.

Oh dear.

We quickly set in motion. Upon finding shoes and heading out back, we pulled the giant branch away and onto the lawn. Fearing the worst, amazingly, we actually got the best for which we could hope. None of the tomatoes were severely damaged. Whew! The bulk of the branch, which was a good two feet around at its base, had fallen into the bushes. Three tomatoes plants on the end were most affected, having been covered by the branch’s zillion small, leafy branches, had been saved by their cages, one of which we tried out best to hammer back into a circular shape.

Of course, during the mess, no one thought to take a picture. Phooey. Then again, when saving plants, taking pictures is the last one’s worries.

We did manage to take a picture of what remained of the branch after being stripped of all other branches. It looks much less impressive in this state.

Anyway, much of the weekend was spent dealing with the large branch, stripping it of it’s small branches, whittling it down into pieces that could be easily disposed of, as well as trying to figure out why it had come down, and if any other branches were in danger of falling.  As of today, we’re so far, so good. Nothing else has fallen. And terms of the branch falling in the first place, the only thing we figure is that it might have been due to a squirrel’s nest that had been nestled at the base of the branch. Maybe it had allowed for excess moisture to seep into the joint, which gradually weakened it. Since the branch came down, we’ve only seen one of the pair of squirrels that we usually see. There was nothing in the remnants of the squirrel’s nest that was still attached to the branch, so we’re not sure what happened.

Meanwhile in the garden generally, everything else is just coming along like plants do. We’re still harvesting bunches of tasty string beans. And we also got our first cucumber of the year! Mmmm. There’s nothing quite like garden-fresh cucumbers. It remains to be seen if we’ll get enough of them for pickling. In addition to the one that we picked, a few more were growing nicely. It’ll probably be another week or so still before they’re ready to harvest.

Thankfully, none of the trees in our yard cover the garden proper, but still, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that all the branches on all the trees stay put. That single large branch caused enough excitement for the rest of the summer!