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.

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)

  • 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

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.


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!


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!