Sunday, June 14, 2009

Finally Fruit!

While slightly out of focus it is still ample proof that we are finally getting tomatoes. I know many California gardeners both in the north and south who have already had tomatoes starting to ripen and in some cases ready for harvest, we got a later start. I was trying to be patient and heed expert advice to wait until the soil was indeed warm enough for setting out the garden. (I almost never wait this late -- we planted May 10 -- but with the late rains, things didn't get going as fast as I would have liked.)

With the recent weeks of almost coastal-like weather we've been having, I have been seeing more tomato blossoms fall than set. Skies have been partly cloudy for more than a week, temperatures have remained about 10 degrees below normal only reaching the low 80s and a 10 mph breeze blows throughout most of the day.

So this morning I was pleasantly surprised while taking a look at how things are progressing to find this specimen, about one-inch in diameter, it is a Mr. Stripey. Further inspection resulted in a find of two smaller fruits on the Shady Lady. I had resigned myself to not seeing fruit until temperatures were well back into the normal range of upper 80s to low 90s.

With the weather expected to heat up late in the week I am hoping for many more similar sightings. Now I just have to figure out how to keep those pesky scrub jays away once they begin turning red.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Of Cucumbers, Radishes, Carrots and Sunflowers

I mentioned last post that the cucumber had set fruit. These are Spacemaster, a bush variety that I have planted in an old recycling tub.

This week the lettuce and alleged spinach made it into the compost bin and carrots and radish seeds went in their pots. The carrots are Romeo Round Baby Carrots, radishes are Easter Egg II Rainbow. Not sure if it may be too warm for these crops so it's definitely an experiment.

A watermelon seed I had planted earlier that hadn't germinated came up near the bell pepper I put in its place. I gently dug it up and placed it in a tiny pot but I'm not sure I have room or a sunny enough location for it.

There are lots of zinnia and cosmo seeds coming up and I am diligently attempting to keep the birds and snails away from them by keeping overturned berry baskets over them until they get big enough to defend themselves.

I am eagerly awaiting germination of of the sunflower seeds, a Mammoth variety, that I finally planted after deliberating where to put them. I was hoping to find another packet of Strawberry Blonde sunflowers that I planted last year. I purchased them at Target but didn't see any when I looked there yesterday. I may try another Target store because these are very pretty, described on the package as "a beautiful soft lemon yellow brushed with rose-pink." A few seeds I had left over went into the ground earlier this year but either did not emerge or were taken by snails. Unfortunately, I never did get a photo of these in bloom last year.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Garden Update

The vegetable garden is thriving even after a late-season storm early Thursday morning that dumped nearly a half inch of icy rain. Typically Sacramento’s rainy season is October through April so this was different for us. This storm was also unusual in that it included nearly continuous lightening flashes and thunder so loud it shook the windows and activated car alarms all over town. Primarily I was worried it might hail. So when I heard a heavy downpour shortly after midnight I went outside to feel the precipitation. It had a slushy feel to it but I don’t believe we got hail in our area and the garden survived intact. A retired National Weather Service meteorologist described the event as “the most impressive display of lightening I have ever seen,” according to The Sacramento Bee. The storm lasted at least two hours as I was awakened after 3 a.m. by similar storm characteristics.

All of our tomato plants have grown considerably since planting on May 10 (top photo). Heights of the plants range from 12 inches to about 27 inches (lower photo). All have blossomed as have all the pepper varieties, the eggplant, zucchini and cucumbers.

Green Beans!

The green beans and the zucchini were the first to produce fruit. These are Derby, a bush variety I purchased as a nursery start.

Curiously Bitter Lettuce

I haven’t had much luck growing lettuce. On April 12 I sowed some lettuce seeds in a large container. While several seeds germinated they began as compact heads and more recently have grown tall. The taste was so bitter I couldn't even swallow it.

I know this is a common problem especially in areas where temperatures can soar well into the 90-degree range – and we’ve had a few days in the upper 90s already. I think I’m giving up on lettuce for now. There are so many great varieties available at local stores.

The variety I planted is Salad Bowl from Burpee. As you can see by the picture it is beginning to bolt. I plan to compost it this weekend.

Curious Spinach

I planted spinach seeds this year for the first time. Curiously, what came up looks nothing like the picture on the packet. I chose Catalina, a baby-leaf spinach from Renee’s Garden. The illustration on the seed packet shows rounded smooth-edged leaves. What I have is definitely pointed at the top of each leaf with a more ragged edge. Could these seeds possibly have been mislabeled? Curiously, a variety called Summer Perfection shown on the company's website (just below the Catalina) looks more like what I have. I suppose it's possible the seeds found their way into the wrong packet.

Either way, it is bound for the compost bin as it was quite bitter tasting. Now I've just got to decide what to replant in the pot.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tomato Steroids

On Sunday while out doing some shopping I stopped by Capital Nursery to pick up some fish emulsion for the garden. In the past I have used this type of fertilizer exclusively with the exception of compost at planting time. But this year I spotted this adorable little bottle.

Earlier in the weekend I had asked a grower at the farmer's market what the secret is to growing Brandywines. He mentioned that often they grow lush foliage but few flowers. The secret he said, is calcium. While compost is excellent fertilizer he continued, it is very high in nitrogen which encourages foliage growth. Calcium is what helps tomatoes flower and therefore fruit, he said. I've also read that lack of calcium contributes to blossom-end rot, a problem I have confronted many times.

With this advice in mind I scoured the nursery shelves for a fertilizer that is easy to apply and was high in calcium. Most did not even list calcium as an ingredient. Dynamite Mater Magic was therefore my pick as it contains 4.5 percent calcium according to the product label. In a few days when the garden dries out from its last watering, I will apply the granular mix and top dress the garden with some fresh potting soil and water it in.

In the meantime, the cute bottle sits on the kitchen counter and my youngest son expounded incredulously the other day, "You bought tomato steroids, Mom?"

Monday, June 01, 2009

Speaking of basil... can never have enough. The leaves are great on turkey sandwiches, with good mozzarella and vine ripened tomatoes and of course in pesto on pasta. With just a few dollars left and a sack full of strawberries, blueberries, peaches, plums and apricots at the farmer's market Saturday, I picked up another basil start and a green bell pepper. The grower said an average bell will produce between a dozen and fifteen peppers. Since these are one of my youngest son's favorites I figure if we want any for cooking we needed another one. I placed the basil and pepper in the spots where I had attempted to start two watermelon varieties. The seeds were old and only one of each variety sprouted but within days of emerging the tender seedlings were plucked and disappeared. I blame the mischievous scrub jays that nest in the Redwood trees in our backyard. After contemplating I decided the location was probably not sunny enough for watermelons anyway.

Baby Zukes

As could be expected, the zucchini will likely be the first to produce edible fruit.

Although I did see two baby green beans on the nursery transplants I put in a few weeks back. Since I had only purchased two, I picked up a packet of Burpee Bush Blue Lake seeds and three more plants have sprouted already. I have never grown green beans before and look forward to a plentiful harvest.

I also picked up some Genovese Basil seeds from the Burpee rack and have two pots sprouting as well.

Pork Fat Rules

Last time I shopped at Trader Joe's I saw a package of pork chops prepared as seen here. Pshaw, I said, I can do that. Note the fresh, home-grown, rosemary. After grilling, the meat was pleasantly seasoned with a distinct rosemary flavor. And yes, that is bacon holding it all together. Mmmmm...