Saturday, August 23, 2008

One potato, two potato, three potato...

I planted the potatoes today. I had more seed potatoes than I had room so I put the leftovers on the south side of the house in a bed that is not particularly good dirt, just to see what happens. I put a little bat quano in each hole and put the potato about 4" deep. I'll need some alfalfa hay to hill the potatoes.

Hope Comes With the Sun

Morning brings better news from the garden.

The sickly, wilted pumpkin vine has perked up. Some leaves look unrecoverable but all in all it is not dead. Now I think more than ever it is just suffering from the interminable rains of the week. 7" is a lot! The garden drained well but the soil is wet and may take a couple of days to get back to normal. I think the sand in the soil mix will help it not become gummy.

I found a lovely new pet in the pumpkin patch - an orange assassin bug! I'm caring for him like a new kitten. He will eat aphids, hornbugs, earworms, leafhoppers, beetles and squash borers. I wanted to take a picture but Lee Harvey is very shy and runs to the back of the stem when he sees me. There were two very similar looking orange bugs in the Urban Harvest book - one is the assassin bug and the other is the juvenile leaf-footed bug. Had to examine Lee Harvey closely to see that he has the characteristic white spots and low foot joints rather than the black bumps and squashed back legs of the leaf-footed bug.

There was some kind of small black caterpiller on one of the tiny onion stems. I tried to get him off so I could examine and possibly identify him but I accidentally squashed the thing as I tried to pull it off. I haven't seen any beneficial caterpillers listed so that was probably a good thing except he might have been food for something better.

My plum tree is toast, or at least I have to give up the notion of ever having plums again. It is healthy, all right, but it is next to a fence, which gives the squirrels access and apparently that is going to be hopeless. I'll put the owl in the tree and see if that does any good next spring but it doesn't look promising.

The mushroom compost I used around the peach tree turns out to be a bad idea. It's sterile and salty, according to what I've read. It's the used up soil from growing mushrooms. The rain this week hopefully washed out the salts.

The leaves on the squash plants are very dark green - that's a good sign! The other squash plant is kind of a medium green so I suppose the difference in color is one is a yellow squash plant and the other a zucchini - no idea which is which until one kind of veggie or the other appears.

The big pumpkin plant has some female buds! You can tell which are which because the female ones have teeny little pumpkins between the bud and the stem. The male ones are just buds. None of the pumpkin buds have flowered yet but the squash buds have. A friend told me that pumpkin plants may come back year after year. That would be interesting but I need to look it up to be sure it isn't leeching out all of the soil nutrients if it does so. Might be better to replant in a different part of the garden each year. Besides, it gets so big it might do better in it's own part of the yard.

What I've read about the kind of compost pile I keep is not good. Too much grass which loses its nitrogen by not being covered by leaves immediately. Well, those are two different seasons around here, aren't they! The kitchen scraps attract Norway rats (don't I know!). It shouldn't be anywhere near the garden because the rats (please, no!) will eat the vegetables on the vines. It should be turned or tossed twice a week. Twice a week?! I'm having enough trouble getting the energy to turn it four times a year. Which is why the Urban Garden book says it is a bad idea. Nuts. I'll see how it goes before getting rid of it.

The grass is about 6" tall from all the rain. On to mowing. What a waste of energy, water, time and money. You can't eat it, I have no sheep to graze on it, it has to be mowed, and when it gets sick or dry you spend a lot of money and time curing it so the neighbors can admire it. Whatever.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Not so much fun, huh?

FNow comes the part of gardening that is no fun at all. Bugs. My squash, pumpkin, and now tomato plants show evidence of leafminers. Everything I read says do nothing. Hopefully parasitic wasps will show up and lay eggs in the larvae (ick) and kill them.

Worse, though is what happened to the tomatillos. Something has beheaded all of the little plants. Just little sticks, weeping droplets of plant juice. First it was a few, then this afternoon when I got home from work, a few more. I just went out with a flashlight to check to see if there were slugs. No slugs but now there are only two or three of the little plants that still have leaves. No clue what is dining on my little tomatillo plants. =(

The radishes don't look much better. Yellowish leaves with loads of holes in them so something is nibbling and damaging them. No slugs there, either, at least when I looked just now. Same thing with the okra - the holes, that is, not the yellowish leaves. So far the cucumber looks OK.

One of the pumpkin plants died very suddenly today. It was growing great yesterday but today when I came home it's all wilted and laying down. It's the medium sized plant. The small plant looks bad, too. The big one looks fine but for how long? I was reading up on squash problems and found that it might be squash borers. Solution to protect other plants is to pull it up so I'll do that in the morning. Maybe I can save the big one. I hate to sacrifice the medium one - I was hoping it was the 7" of rain we had this week and it might perk up now that we've had one dry day.

I wouldn't mind the problems if there was a solution but I don't know what to do if I can't see what's eating my plants.

The garlic never came up. One red onion plant has poked its little stalk up. A few thin stalks of the white onions are coming up but not much. The bell pepper never came up. The lettuce is still very tiny and I'm worried the leafminers will get down there. I need to plant the potatoes this weekend - I don't think my little sprouting potatoes can wait another two weeks, but they may cook in this soggy, hot August weather.

OK, my attitude must be that this is a learning season. If I lose a crop... or two... or three... or <*sigh*> more I just need to research and find out what went wrong so I don't make the same mistake or don't take preventative action in time the next time I plant those veggies. Yes, that's the attitude that will keep me working in the garden and not just give up and throw St. Augustine sod over the whole thing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Traveler Tomatoes Show Up

I think I've found the missing tomatoes. The Traveler Tomatoes are right there next to the oak tree. The Market Champions I think are coming up... in the middle of the cucumbers! I must have double planted that row. Well, all I can do is try to transplant the tomatoes. The cucumbers came up first so they own that row. Still no sign of the bell peppers. Or the red onions. Everything else has at least sent up a shoot or two, so that's kind of gratifying. No veggies yet. I'm very eager for pumpkins so we can have one or two for Halloween. Lots of buds on the squash but if they continue to open one at a time they won't pollinate and I won't get any squash. Got a bloom on the cantelope. The season is all wrong but it will be interesting to see what happens - will I get fruit? Will it ripen before it gets cold? One of the black krim tomato plants fell over and looks bad. Root rot? I may have overwatered. There are spots of mushroom fungi in the garden. I'm going to prop up the tomato plant and put some root stimulator on the base to see what happens.
Oh, and I finally made a good mozzarella! A lady was making fresh mozzarella at HEB and I stopped to watch. They don't make it from milk - they get the curds with the rennet already in it and just add warm water, then knead it. But I learned a lot watching her knead the cheese so I came home and tried again, with reconstituted dry milk and half-and-half. And it turned out very smooth and nice. I think the next batch will be even better. Other than the kneading I think I was overheating the curds.
News on the lemon tree front. The Meyer lemon tree has not grown very much at all in the three years I've had it. My neighbor Joe also has a Meyer lemon and his has grown a lot. He said he feeds it those citrus tree sticks so I got some and hammered in one for each lemon tree about three weeks ago. Lo and behold, the Meyer has sprouted lots of new green growth! I'm so pleased! I plan to espalier it over the porch entry.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Missing Crops?

I've lost a row of tomatoes. I clearly remember planting them but when seedlings came up and I went out to mark the rows with what's in them, I'm short one row of tomatoes, either the travelers or the market champions. It's not that there aren't any seedlings in one row. It's actually short one row of dirt when compared to my chart, so something growing is not what I think it is. Lesson learned: mark the rows as you plant, not later.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jumpin' Up!

The weather has been very warm (mid to high 90s) and I've watered everything well plus we had about 1/4" of rain today. And the garden exploded in new plants! I just put seeds in the ground 3 days ago, and look what has happened. If you can't read the chart click on it for a larger, more clear image.

In addition, I've taken my mother's fabulous cheese cake recipe and used my homemade cream cheese and homemade graham crackers to create something fantastic. Well, it's still in the oven but the smell is unbelievable! I'll freeze it for serving to company another time.

I'm having pizza for dinner tonight using homemade pizza crust according to my daughter Molly's recipe and my homemade Mozzarella cheese. Storebought pepperoni - no idea how to make that at home but maybe someday I'll attempt it.

I'm slowly adopting the slow food philosophy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Say Cheese!

I've been making cheese for the past month or so. First cheese was Ricki Carroll's 30 Minute Mozzarella which is pretty simple to make but requires milk that has not been ultrapasteurized. Try to find that in your supermarket! Bordens makes a milk that the lable says has been pasteurized but it must have had high heat treatment somewhere in the process because it doesn't make good, smooth cheese. Whole Foods has several organic pasteurized milk brands, which would be ideal but so far they don't seem to make very good Mozzarella, either. The best success I've had was with reconstituted powdered milk plus a pint of half and half. Even the poorly textured Mozzarella is good on homemade pizza dough, though, so nothing has gone to waste.

The next cheese I tried was Farmhouse cheddar. It looks OK but I won't know how it tastes for a while. It needs to age at least a month, longer is better. Yesterday I made Jalapeno Cheddar using Ricki's stirred curd cheddar method. It's still in the press and then it needs to age until probably Christmas if I can wait that long to try it.

Last weekend six-year-old granddaughter Mary Grace spent the weekend with me as a treat for both of us. Between visits to the swimming pool she made (all by herself!) a big batch of cream cheese. I made homemade bagles to go with it. We sent bagles and cream cheese home with Mary Grace for her to share with her family. I've had reports that the twins (almost 20 months old) have gobbled all of it up during lessons on how to spread cheese on bagles all by themselves. Way to go babies! I've got enough of the cheese left to make a small cheesecake, which I may do this afternoon as it's way to hot to do anything outdoors today. Temp is nearly 100 and the humidity makes you drip with sweat in seconds.

Anyway, check out Ricki's website ( for more information on home cheese making, which is loads of fun and a great way to get cheese that you can be sure doesn't have unpronounceable chemicals faking the cheesy taste or texture. My homemade cheeses have just milk or cream, enzymes for curd coagulation, a little salt, and in the case of the jalapeno cheese, veggies in them. I wish I had a goat.

Owls Found Innocent of Bird Feeder Intimidation!!

Upon close inspection of the bird feeders, one was found to be empty and the other full of rotten seed that had sprouted and fermented. Horrible smell! No wonder the poor birds wouldn't come around anymore. The Plum Thief Squirrel is suspected of emptying the feeder under the maple tree so that feeder has been moved to a less accessible location for any creature without wings. The other feeder has been scrubbed and is drying out. It was hanging under the roof edge where rainwater drips so that apparently is not a good location. New sites are under consideration.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

You Say Tomato I Say Tomatillo

BSIL Betty took me to a lecture at Urban Harvest on preparing the fall garden. Argh! I've done a lot wrong. Well, I've done some things right, too, so pressing on.
Latest garden plan - actually planted so far...

Bye Bye Birdie

Sad result of the plastic owls. At least, I'm guessing it might be the owls. My bird feeders in the backyard, well away from the side yards and their owls, stand full of seed but no birds are coming. None. Zero. I had dozens of birds all the time eating the seed previously but they don't come anymore. The poor things still need to eat, right? Where are they? Am trying an experiment - take down the owls and see if the birds come back. I could put the owls back up only when I have fruit or veggies under attack by squirrels or birds.