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!

Flowers, flowers everywhere!

In a twist that only Mother Nature could appreciate, it looks like Springtime in the garden! Okay, so that’s not entirely true, but thanks to our late start this year, the garden certainly is blooming away here in early July. If nothing else, it makes for some pretty photo-ops, which is what we’re sharing this week.

So around this time last year (maybe a week or so later, actually), we already had zucchini coming in. Well, despite our volunteer squash that got a very early start, all we’ve got at this point this year is flowers. But we expect some squash to start showing at any time. The flowers sure are at their prettiest early in the mornings.

What is making quite the showing right now are the string beans! Yep, we just made out first harvest of them — yellow wax beans fancily called Beurre de Rocquencourt, along with a few delicate Purple Teepee beans  — a few days ago, along with some greens and some really beautiful basil.

So the beans are coming along nicely, and there’s already more to harvest!

Besides flowers that will lead to food, many of our other flowers are going strong. Our lace-cap hydrangea bush has rebounded with flying colors!

And we’ve got Double Bloom daylillies for…well, days!

Meanwhile, we just got our first peek at our new snapdragons. The ones below are the purple Black Prince variety. The pink Apple Blossom ones should be arriving soon.

And last but not least, we can’t talk flowers without talking marigolds. We planted several plots of them throughout the beds, and then scattered seeds as much as we could. (Some took, some didn’t.) In the borders of the concrete raised beds, we have some lovely French Dwarf marigolds that are coming in nicely…

…and then we have several plots of Nema-Gone marigolds are that looking good. This variety is supposed to be good for the soil (helps kill nematodes, or roundworms), and it produces lots of green foliage with beautiful, small, yellow-orange flowers.

Finally, we managed to get a shot of one of the newest members of the local rabbit clan.

As annoying as the rabbits can be, the little ones are very cute, we have to admit. A couple weeks ago, while we were cleaning up outside, we unknowingly spooked a tiny one (could have been this guy as a newborn) that had been hiding, and he ran right into one of the net cages and got himself all caught up. His freak-out lasted only a couple seconds as he managed to free himself before skedaddling. While we’ve not seen the parent bunnies recently, we have seen this single little guy hanging out in the yard frequently. He’s a brave one, too, as none of the neighbors’ dogs seems to phase him.

Ah, well. Hopefully a pretty garden will turn out to be a productive garden. There’s still several months to go!

 

The year’s first update in pictures

As promised last week, it’s time for our first visual round-up of the garden. Not much more to say beyond that, so we’ll let the pictures do the talking!


Starting round back, only a handful of the tomatoes we planted in our back barrels are doing alright. We also planted pepper seedlings back here, but only one barrel of them survived, and they aren’t looking so hot. We’re really going to have to figure out how to get peppers again next year.

Moving around to the side, the various bush beans that we planted are doing okay. Rabbits got into a couple of the rows, so they have fewer plants. But it still looks like we’ll get a good number of beans, at least.

Cucumbers, anyone? The ones that are doing best are the volunteers – we found four a couple weeks ago. But the seeded ones are also starting to look very promising. We also stuck a couple tomato plants and a pepper plant in the middle – one of the tomatoes might need to be transplanted soon.

Thanks to the rabbits, the lettuce bed looks pretty sad, save for the flowers and herbs around the edges. (What they don’t know is that not only do we have lettuce planted elsewhere, including inside, but that we plan to reseed this bed in the late summer. HA! Take that you silly rabbits!)

Meanwhile, the other greens bed is look very nice, save for the poor romanesco (you can barely see the remaining stalks in the bottom right square of the bed), and endive (top left). The arugula in the other two squares is doing handsomely (it’s soooo delicious!), as are a number of the crops and flowers around the edges.

This is the lettuce/greens stash we have hiding away in our small hanging bed. No rabbits can get in here! And the squirrels ignore it, too.

The rabbits got into the peas early on, but they are starting to make something of a comeback. Unfortunately it’s a bit too warm for peas right now, but we’ll see if anything comes of the plants that are trying to make it. The extra marigolds along the front edge here seem to enjoy the bed, at least. And there’s extra tomato and peppers plants in here too.

Between the two stone beds, we have our two overwintered peppers (a new seedling went into the green pot top left this year, it’s slowly but surely doing well), a blackberry plant (bottom left) and a blueberry plant (bottom right) that we thought for sure was dead. Lo and behold, a new shoot appeared earlier in the year!

Back over to the beans, the pole beans are in various states. The black beans, which of off to the far right, seem to be doing the best at this point, but the rest are coming along.

Well isn’t this just a confusing picture of our radishes? Ground cherry plants have appeared in the far barrel. The close one contains only radishes. Well…radish greens, mostly. We’re letting them go to seed.

Over on the side of the house, the strawberries have really taken over (and that’s exactly what we want them to do!), and there’s a single tomato in this small pot that’s doing fairly well.

Continuing on the side of the house are a few more stray tomato plants. If these produce, it’ll likely happen later in the season. They don’t get much sun here, so they tend to grow a little slower. Our hope is that the strawberries that are growing off to the right will eventually take over this entire space.

The squash bed looks just about right, and the plants will soon start producing lots of large, beautiful flowers.

This is the volunteer squash on the end of the bed – it’s advanced quite a bit more than everything else. We’re still not sure what variety this is. The leaves and placement (based on last year) suggest an acorn squash, but odds are also good that it’s also either a Long Pie pumpkin or a traditional green zucchini.

And this is our single volunteer tomato, also in the squash bed. Whatever type it is, it’s a cherry variety for sure, as small fruits have already started appearing.

In contrast, our tomato bed is still looking rather sparse. The plants are actually coming along well, but they aren’t nearly as large as the volunteer tomato. But with the warm autumns that we’ve been having over the past couple years, we’re pretty sure that we’ll still get tomatoes from these plants later in the year.

Back with the strawberries over on the other side of the house. Oh how they’ve spread over the past three years! It’s amazing!

Moving to the front of the yard, this is the the first of our two flower beds. A volunteer red poppy appeared hear a number of weeks ago. It’s now fading, but it sure did produce a lot of blooms.

The second flower bed contains only one flower…

…and it’s a very pretty one. 🙂

That’ll do it for our garden gallery, for now. With July on the way, it’s now time for weeding,  watering, watching, and waiting!

We’ll always have arugula

Welp, the rabbits have had their day and then some.  They have summarily and sneakily done away with our ground-level lettuces, kale, romanesco, and endive. They also managed to get back into the peas, despite the brand-new netting on the cage. (Which they chewed right through – one hole on each side of the cage.) We’ll do a pictures round-up next week to show off the devastation.

SIGH.

Now, we knew that this might be a problem regardless of our efforts with planting bunny-keep-away flowers and redoing some of the netting on the cages,  but we didn’t quite expect that the rabbits would purposefully and, to be frank, knowingly try to get at our crops. Them chewing right through the netting surrounding the peas is testament to that. With the peas, at least, we repaired the holes in the net cage with double layers of new netting, and they’ve not chewed any new holes since, so maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s what drove them to decimate everything else in sight. We’re not sure. Without giving the rabbits too much credit, is it too crazy to think that they know what we’re going to plant and where? Hmm. It seems like we might have to rethink our planting strategies next year.

Anyway, of all the leafy green things in the ground that rabbits enjoy, they have always avoided the arugula. Oh, they’ll step all over it to get to the more succulent lettuces, but they’ve never taken but a bite of any of it. We’ve also noticed that they haven’t touched our little bunches of mesclun mix, which contain a formidable green that almost tastes like mustard or horseradish. (But it’s not a mustard green, as far as we can tell.) And they can’t get to the greens that we have growing in a small hanging bed, so that’s a plus. But now we’re thinking: are peppery, potent, spicy greens the way to go for ground-level planting?

If so, that’s fine by us! We l-o-v-e arugula, and this year we planted two different types. In the picture above, which contains a mix of argulas and other greens, we have standard arugula, the kind with the big, fluted leaves that one might see in the grocery store. It’s generally peppery with a delicious licorice-like flavor. But then we have Wild Rocket Arugula, which is like a mini version of standard arugula. It’s got an even stronger flavor that almost like lemon-pepper. Since we started planting arugula a few years ago, it’s always done well. And it’s the kind of green that we can re-seed (though it also seeds itself, we’ve found) throughout the season.

So despite whatever problems the rabbits have caused, we’ll always have arugula. 🙂

 

One can never have too many strawberries…maybe

If there’s one thing that we’ve wanted to do ever since starting strawberries, it’s make a strawberry pie.  Okay, so maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking goal, but it’s a goal nonetheless.  And as trite as it might sound, it really comes down to the true goal: get enough strawberries to make a pie. Well, this year, the strawberries haven’t disappointed.

Last week we lamented a bit on how much critters, like slugs and squirrels, like strawberries too. (And we swear we saw a shrew in the strawberry patch the other day, too.) Last week, we were also dealing with a bout of grim, wet weather.  So far this week, not only have we had clear skies,  but it’s been sunny and hot. Like record-breaking H.O.T., which stinks for the humans, but is great for the strawberries.  In fact, it’s possible we might have too many strawberries…

…nah.

Anyway, back to the pie. The recipe for the pie we had in mind came from our trusty Better Homes and Garden cookbook: Berry Glacé Pie. It sounds fancy, but it’s super simple, requires no cooking save for a baked pie shell, and as it turns out, totally delicious. (As much as we’ve wanted to make a strawberry pie, the worry remained that a baked pie would result in mushy, nearly non-existent berries, which is pretty unappetizing.  Because this is a chilled pie, the berries stay nice and firm, softening up only slightly over time.)

Berry Glacé Pie

 Ingredients

1 baked pie shell (homemade, store-bought, your choice)
8 cups fresh strawberries (the smaller, the better)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

(Yes, 4 ingredients; that’s it!)

Instructions

  1. Prepare you pie shell in whatever manner is necessary.
  2. For strawberries, remove stems and leaves. Cut any large strawberries in half lengthwise and set aside in a bowl.
    (Note: since all our strawberries have to be vetted for anything that might have burrowed their way inside [yuck], we cut all our strawberries in half. The prettier version of the pie, as listed below, contains whole strawberries that are neatly arranged with their pointy ends up. We just layered our berries as they seemed to best fit.)
  3. For the glaze, in a blender container or food processor bowl combine 1 cup of the strawberries and 2/3 water. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Add enough additional water to the mixture to equal 1 1/2 cups. In a medium saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in blended berry mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. (Optional: stir in a few drops red food coloring.) Cool for 10 minutes without stirring.
  4. Spread about 1/4 cup of the glaze over bottom and sides of pie crust. Arrange half of the remaining strawberries, stem ends down, in pastry.
  5. Carefully spoon half of the remaining glaze over berries, making sure all berries are covered. Arrange remaining berries over first layer. Spoon remaining glaze over berries, covering each. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. (After 2 hours, filling may begin to water out). Garnish with whipped cream.

The most surprising thing about this pie, and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all,  is how refreshingly bright it tastes. Because our berries are a little tart and the glaze is very sweet, the pie is perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too tart. It’s also kept pretty well over several days, despite the recipe’ s warning that the glaze might become watery. Ours hasn’t, though it has congealed, darkened, and become a little cloudy. It’s probably best, indeed, that the pie is eaten sooner rather than later, but as much as we could probably eat a single pie in a day, we probably shouldn’t.  Probably.

Take one baked pie shell…
…and some strawberries…
…top with glaze and chill. Voila!
Presently, the strawberry crop is slowing down a little, though new growth is appearing, as are new flowers. Right now, we’ve got enough berries for another pie, but maybe we should aim to make jam or something. We’ll see.
Meanwhile in the garden, things are doing okay.  It’s looking like the majority of tomato seedling are starting to really take root. Can’t say the same about the peppers, sadly. Looks like another slim year there. But the cucumber, beans, and squash are all taking off, as are some of the radishes. Peas are another story. (Maybe we’ll get to that lament week.) And we’ve got greens for days. Delicious!
So many delicious salads!