Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Made in America? I hope so.

Since I can't go too long without getting in the dirt, I've been cleaning up my mom's backyard during my stay. There's no love lost between my mother and her flower beds ("I only garden because I like the results," she always says) so her assortment of gardening tools are ragtag at best.

Lucky for us, we have a generous extended family in

Bowie who willingly shares their stuff. When I mentioned to Uncle Bobby that I needed to prune the shrubs, he showed up the next day with Aunt Barbara's vintage pruning shears. They belonged to her dad, Richard Ennis, who was an enthusiastic gardener at her girlhood home on Hemlock Street in Washington, D.C. Aunt Barbara guesses the shears are at least 70 years old.

"He used them to prune the rose bushes in our yard," she remembers. "We had lots of roses, hydrangeas, and snowball bushes."

I've been junking for decades and never thought to keep an eye out for vintage hand tools. These shears are made of steel by a company called Durex. (Could it be the same company that makes condoms? Doubtful!) I love the details on the shears, especially the lock on the handle.

I see BLT's in my future.

I've been worried about my tomato plants, as they've been growing like gangbusters, but, when I left for Maryland, they still had no fruit.

Surprise! Tony sent me these photos, and the plants are covered with green tomatoes. The tomatillo plant also has babies. I am beside myself with joy.

PS: More pole beans too!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We call it mellow yellow.

I thought I planted two cucumber plants in May. Now, I'm wondering if I planted three. To date, we've picked a Japanese variety, and several traditional cukes, and all have been shades of green. The other day, Tony spotted this monster cucumber, and, in addition to it's size, it's yellow.

I agreed to a taste test without me (difficult, believe me) and here's Tony's report: "It tastes like a regular cucumber."

Tony snapped these photos, and I love his comparison shot with the other veggies.

Beans: Who needs Jack when I've got Tony?

I'm in Maryland taking care of my mom, and so I've left my garden to Tony's care. Admittedly, I've been more than nervous about this arrangement. Tony knows less about growing vegetables than I do (which isn't much). Happily, he sent me this photo of our first pole bean: a beautiful first born, don't you think?

Also, he's ready to pluck the second Japanese eggplant, and the hot Thai peppers are ripening nicely.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Name that herb.

I'm having more luck this summer planting herb seeds in pots than in the ground. These seeds sprouted in three days. No need to label the seedlings, because the first leaves to grow after the seed leaves look exactly like the mature herb I buy at Superlo. Can you guess the herb? Clue: It's a favorite in Asian cooking.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Good timing, for once.

Earlier this week, we had two days and nights of intense rain. Our courtyard flooded, and the crape myrtles, loaded with mid-summer blooms, were so heavy they almost kissed the ground.

Luckily, before the rain started, I hauled home a bale of pine needles from Dan West and made a cushion for my canteloup vine. The vine knows no

boundaries. I was worried it would disappear into the grass and some sun-stroked gardener (that would be me) would step on it. Now the pine needles accentuate the blossoms and will help safeguard the canteloups when they eventually grow.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meet Forrest: My neighborhood helper.

My young neighbor Forrest has been more than willing to help with the vegetable garden. He and his little brother Davis planted the beans from seed in May, and since then, they have been curious and enthusiastic. These days, their favorite job is watering.

On Sunday, when Forrest got back from vacation, he couldn't wait to pick his first cucumber. Does this fellow look happy or what? His mom says the cuke will fit right in with the family's new favorite snack: a Ritz cracker, topped with a dollop of whipped cream cheese, a slice of cucumber, and a sprinkle of garlic salt with parsley. Yum!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Smash and grow.

When I got home Friday from work, a limb had fallen from one of our pin oaks into the flower bed below. At first, I thought it had taken down a mature Japanese maple, and I was sick about it. Fortunately, the maple was okay, but the native hydrangea next to the maple took quite a hit.

After Tony and I heaved the limb off the hydrangea (it takes some muscle to move a limb from a 70 year old oak!) I cut the broken hydrangea into branches and started to toss them in the trash. Then I thought: Can these be rooted? So I found an empty plastic trash can, filled it with water, and made a hydrangea arrangement for the patio. I'm hoping the branches will root, but I may end up with a stinky bucket of hydrangea water. Stay tuned.

Target, you disappoint me.

For the past two weeks, I've been noticing the upheaval at my local Target with passing interest. Now, I'm mad.

It seems Target is nixing it's gardening section to make way for more groceries. Do the Target honchos really think mixed nuts are more important than these gardening gloves, which I loved so much I bought in two different colors?

I've bought many gardening props at Target over the years. Besides the gloves, I also treasure this waterproof tote bag and a trio of ceramic herb markers for dill, basil, and chives.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pick your own at home.

It's a big day around here. I finally picked my first vegetables: two cucumbers, an eggplant, and two banana peppers. I immediately made lunch, piling slices of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and basil on top of a brie-like goat cheese called Cave Spring made by Bonnie Blue Farm, an artisan

cheese-maker from Waynesboro, Tennessee. The bread was from local baker Shoaf's Loaf, and the tomatoes were from my CSA, so my lunch was locavore heaven.

For dinner, I tossed pasta with my home-grown, homemade pesto and topped it with a sauteed mixture of shallots, tomatoes, olives, and the tiny eggplant I grew. Tony, who typically thinks my vegetarian meals are a little lackluster, was full of praise.

My cucumbers were the biggest surprise. Apparently, I have two different cucumber plants. One is Japanese soyu (long and narrow); the other is the traditional slicing cucumber we know and love (short and fat). You would never know the difference between the plants until you saw the cucumbers growing.

So which is better? Long and narrow or short and fat? (I know you are smiling right now.) I liked the slicing cucumber, because it's sweeter.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I'm worried about my tomatoes.

My tomato plants have been growing for two months, and although they appear robust and healthy, I haven't seen the first sign of a tomato.

I asked Keith Forrester of Whitton Farms (I see him every Wednesday when I pick up my CSA) about the lackluster fruit, and he blamed the hot nights. "When the nights stay this hot, the blooms just dry up," he said.

Great. That wasn't what I wanted to hear, so I checked out my plants this evening to prove him wrong. No luck. Some of the blooms are brown and shriveled. Others near the top of the plants still look beautiful, so I decided to amp up my watering. I don't know if more water will make a difference, but it's something to try.

Here's the good news: My tomatillo plants (the second photo) have formed tiny, tiny tomatillos from the plant's blooms. I love that the blooms aren't bothered at all by this summer's temperatures, unusually hot, even for Memphis.

Lesson learned: In the mid-South, plant tomatoes early so they form their fruit before the heat settles in. Better yet: Plant more tomatillos than tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How I spent my 4th.

I have a new 4th of July tradition that lets someone else do the heavy lifting.

I went blueberry picking at Nesbit Blueberry Farm with my friend Susan, and although I didn't grow the berries, I did turn the bucket of berries I picked into my first blueberry pie and six jars of blueberry jam. It was a very satisfying Martha moment.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I've created a monster.

My two cucumber vines are the alpha dog of my garden, wrapping their way around the tomatoes and crowding out the eggplants. Lesson learned: Give cucumbers plenty of room.

To compensate, I moved one the eggplants to the other end of the garden. She wasn't happy, but she did bounce back after lots of watering. I also found another cage in the shed, untangled the vines from the tomatoes, and wrapped them around their new support. It was a delicate job.

By the next day, the cucumbers were winding their way around the second cage and popping out more babies. Their older siblings are, I think, almost ready to pick.

Pick a bouquet.

One thing is certain: I can grow some basil. I had to cut several plants back this evening, because they were blocking the sun from a pepper plant. Now I have a basil bouquet and a basil arrangement for my kitchen window sill.

Since I’m also getting a generous amount of basil every week in my CSA, I’ve been making pesto. Tony’s not crazy about pesto, but that’s not stopping me. I’ve been experimenting with using walnuts instead of pine nuts, and here's what I think: walnuts are less expensive, but not as good.

Susan suggested I check out the current issue of Bon Appetit for their piece on 25 favorite ways to use basil. I did, and so should you. The basil cornbread looks fantastic.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Name that weed: Part two.

Thanks to Christy, I've discovered that my mystery weed isn't a weed at all, but a medicinal herb called "Chinese Lantern Plant." There are fruits inside the orange lanterns that have twice the vitamin C as lemons and are used to treat fever and gout. Plus, you can add the fruits to pies and preserves. Be forewarned: Don't eat the fruit until they are ripe in the fall; otherwise they are, well, poisonous.

If you're not brave enough to eat Chinese lanterns, you can dry the plants and use them in floral arrangements. Either way, I can't believe I almost pulled them up. I may never weed again.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dear God: Please save my okra.

The hungry bugs have moved off my beans, only to discover my okra. I have six okra plants, and they look pathetic.

The other day, I bought some organic insecticide soap and doused all the leaves. I also got my hands soaked, so at least I don't have aphids. The next day, the plants didn't look better, but they also didn't look worse.

They are a perfect pair.

In case you've never thought about combining these plants, try planting balloon flowers with lamb's ear. It's a beautiful combination.

Veggie garden update

I am amazed, but there are more vegetables in my garden than cucumbers. Yesterday, I discovered two banana peppers. I'm not sure how I missed them. Now, I'm not sure when to pick them.

Plus, the hot Thai peppers are coming on strong. They are still too small to photograph with my point and shoot camera, but, of course, I tried anyway. One of my eggplants also is growing babies.

For two days, I've been trying to get a good photo of the peppers when my neighbor rides by with his dog in his bicycle basket. This morning, I almost said, "I'm trying to get a good photo for my blog" to explain why he keeps seeing me like this. Then, I figured anybody who rides around on his bike with a miniature poodle wearing red sunglasses, doesn't need any explanation from me.