Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Crystalline Ice Plant



Crystalline ice plant, or ficoïde glaciale in French and Eiskraut/Kristallkraut in German, is a South African succulent plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) and is popular in France and Spain and very trendy in New York restaurants. While it grows wild and has spread around the world, the only place you can score some around here is from my garden.


I first saw ice plant on a John Kohler You Tube video. It was one of several strange greens he was growing in his front yard garden (tyfon was another and I also have seeds for that). Pinetree has the seeds so I decided to plant a small patch of the stuff this year just to see what it is like. Ice plant is in the Aizoaceae family and is actually related to tetragon or New Zealand spinach.





The heart-shaped leaves are broad and light green colored in the Spring and covered with crystalline bumps used to store water. The plant is salt tolerant, often growing on the coast and on sand dunes. The leaves are edible and the taste is very subtle. It has a briny, slightly salty taste. Since it is a succulent, when you eat it, it sort of melts in your mouth, releasing the briny juices. Chefs often pair it with seafood for that reason.




I have yet to experience it, but in summer the foliage changes form to smaller grey leaves with pink flower buds and white aster-like flowers. The buds are edible and attractive and are prized by chefs. The flowers are attractive and you can see a picture of them in the Baker Creek catalog. They describe them as looking like sea anemones, and they do.


In climates without frost, the plants can become invasive. There is another ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis), another succulent from South Africa, that was used for ground cover and is now an invasive species causing a lot of trouble in California. That plant is also called Hottentot fig, highway ice plant, pigface and sour fig. It produces a tart fruit that is used to make jam. I am not sure if the two plants are related.


So far I have only had a few leaves to add to a salad, where it does not stand out. The plants are now large enough to produce enough leaves for a more substantial dish, but I am not sure what I will do with them. While this is certainly an intriguing and attractive plant, I surely will not plant it again. The little taste and texture it has is just not worth the space in my small garden.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Harvest Monday 29 June 2015




The kohlrabies are sizing up quickly so I harvested a few more. These are Winner, but the Azur Star are also putting on size and will be ready soon. I may leave one or two of the Azur Star plants to see how big I can get them. The ones I saw at Tower Hill were the size of a large grapefruit and apparently remain edible at that size. Just more to enjoy. I also pulled another Red Candy and a couple of the Tropea onions to make room for the pole beans.




The snow peas and snap peas are in full production now. And I definitely had a green snow pea mixed in with my Sugar Snap peas, so that adds a little unexpected variety.




More peas. It is time to start freezing snow peas. The snap peas, if they make it home, are being used with kohlrabi and radish slices and some hummus for quick lunches.


There is plenty more to harvest from the garden but weather and my schedule have not aligned. It has rained a lot and temperatures are colder, with some nights in the 50s, and it is rained Saturday night and Sunday. I hope we don’t go into some long rainy stretch here which will just promote the spread of disease. All this rain is coming from tropical storms and Midwest weather and I hope this is not some prolonged pattern. However, looking at the forecast, it rained Sunday and is forecasted to rain Wednesday and Friday, so that is looking like a pattern. Time to start preventive spraying in between storms.


On Saturday I did get to check on the garden, pinch a few suckers from the tomatoes, and harvest the peas above. So far everything looks healthy. I noted some of my peppers are starting to set fruit, which is always an encouraging sign.




Above is the large Jimmy Nardello pepper I showed last week along with its puny siblings. You can see 3 sizeable fruit in the photo but if you blow it up, I count 11 peppers visible. Above the frame the plant is loaded with blossoms. Wish I had 6 of these. I’ll just have to be patient and wait for the rest to grow up and become productive citizens of the garden.




Another nice view is this one of an Hungarian Paprika plant. Wish I had six of these like I planned but I only got two to germinate after a lengthy battle. The seed was sourced from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and they say their seed originated in Hungary but do not provide a local name for it or even say what village or even county it came from. The “sweet, spicy” peppers are described to be slender, 4.5 inches long and they ripen to a dark red color. I have fantasies of making my own Paprika but how do you dry these peppers? Air dry or dehydrator? Does it help to split them open before dehydrating?


That’s what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are doing, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Harvest Monday 22 June 2015




Harvested some more spinach and the first cutting of tatsoi. I thought the tatsoi was ruined by the flea beetles, but some judicious spraying and a break in the weather caused it to outgrow the flea beetles. There is more in the garden and the cool, rainy weather we have this weekend will hopefully suppress the beetles and allow me to harvest the rest next week.




The bulk of the garlic scapes were harvested this week, after a few early scapes became available last week. Another first picking was the Golden Sweet snow peas. These are growing quite rampantly. I had to use twine to raise the mass of the vines off the  radishes in the middle of the bed and pull them toward the trellis. The prevailing (high) winds have been blowing the vines away from the trellis, keeping the tendrils from grabbing the trellis.




I opened the brassica tenting to see how they are doing and took the opportunity to cut the first harvest of the Beedy’s Camden kale. Now I have kale for smoothies, my baked eggs, and some massaged kale salads. All of the brassicas are still looking good. There are some holes in the bottom leaves of the kale so maybe I should try spraying some Spinosad in there next week. I examined the broccoli and no sign of heads forming, which is good.




More firsts in the root vegetables category. I actually succeeded in growing a kohlrabi, only my second in years of attempts. I started these indoors in soil cubes and transplanted them. This one is Winner. Also harvested were the Red Candy onion and the first Rossa Lunga di Tropea onion, to use as fresh onions in cooking.




Besides the root vegetables I picked a large quantity of the Golden Sweet snow peas and the first Sugar Snap peas.





I pulled most of the radishes from the bed so I can plant something else. The purple Boro King radishes were huge but had a lot of maggot damage.  The white radish is an off-color Boro King. And more strange shapes from the Dragon radishes. I wondered if  this could be cause by some problem, like nematodes or a soil-borne disease. It is not rocks, there are none in the raised beds. Apparently not, daikon radishes often exhibit the same strange shapes and I will bet there is some daikon in these.




After photographing the radishes I found this one in the corner of the bag. It is strange enough to deserve its own photo.


That is what I harvested from my garden last week. Check out what other gardeners are growing by visiting Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tomato Inventory 2015

This year I have 28 tomato plants, 14 each in the raised-bed and in-ground gardens. All but 5 of these were started by me from seeds this winter. There were ups and downs but I generally did a decent job this year starting my tomatoes from seed. In addition to the plants in my garden, I was able to give another 9-10 tomato plants to other gardeners in the community garden. What you wind up with in the spring is not always what you plan for in the winter. Each year you have to be satisfied with what you achieved and supplement it with purchases if necessary. What follows is an inventory of what is actually in soil and growing now. Just forget those garden planting schedules I made in February, they no longer matter.


The Raised Beds

Working counterclockwise around the raised beds.




Above  is Esterina, an F1 hybrid cherry tomato that I am growing in lieu of Sungold. I love Sungold but it has a terrible tendency to crack whenever it rains. Esterina is just as sweet and prolific and more crack resistant. I grew it last year and liked it, so this is the second year. I have 3 of these planted in the raised beds and gave away 2 of them. My seeds came from High Mowing but it is also carried by Territorial and William Dam in Canada.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Harvest Monday 15 June 2015



More chard, Magenta Sunset on left, Orange Fantasia, and Pink Passion. The chard and mustard were overhanging the squares where the cucumbers were to go, so they got trimmed.




The mustard greens are finally large enough to harvest.  Keeping them covered prevents flea beetle damage but I run the risk the higher temperature inside might cause them to bolt. Oh well, they are going to bolt anyway.




The squares in the foreground are needed for the cucumbers.




More radishes, Zlata and Dragon. I definitely have to try making radish pickles. For Michelle, I tasted a bit of the Dragon leaf and it was fairly mild but a little fuzzy. I would eat it, some bacon grease and a splash of pepper vinegar would make it quite tasty.




The garlic scapes have started to form and I got a first picking. The really fat ones are from the German Red garlic I picked up last year at the Mt. Desert Island garlic festival. The stems on this large garlic are at least an inch in diameter so I am hoping for some good size bulbs.




Finally got the last of the peppers planted, the spice and chili peppers that were so slow to germinate. On the left above are the spice peppers, Aji Dulce and Arroz con Pollo. The lighter green peppers on the right are the Lemon Drop chili peppers. All of these went in the raised beds.




As an example how crazy the variance in pepper seed germination is, the picture above shows two of my Jimmy Nardello peppers, a variety that I really like and really want to grow. The large plant was the first to germinate and one of the first seedlings I had to pot up. The rest did not germinate and/or I killed them, but I scrambled and used the paper towel in a baggie method and eventually got 6 peppers, 5 like the one on the left and one like the one on the right. Naturally I would like to be planting 6 peppers like the one on the right. I need to do something better, but at least it is not like last year where I killed just about all my pepper seeds that decided to germinate.




The Soloist Napa cabbages are heading so I tied them up to help, and to get the leaves off the ground so they don’t provide a convenient ramp for the slugs to get inside the heads.




I also tied up the heads of endive to blanch the hearts, which makes them more tender and less bitter. I should be harvesting some of the endives in a few weeks.


That is what I harvested from my garden last week. Check out what other gardeners around the world are doing by visiting Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Planting Cucumbers with Surround WP




Growing cucumbers is an almost impossible task lately because of the cucumber beetle problem here. The beetle harbors a bacterial wilt disease in its gut and infects the cucumber vines when it feeds on them. The actual damage done by the beetles is minimal, but their bite is the kiss of death to the vines if they are carrying bacterial wilt (Erwinia tracheiphila). Within a few days the vine starts drooping and eventually dies as the bacterial infection clogs up its vascular system. There is no cure except prevention, and that is difficult. The beetles are tiny and elusive, and they like to hang out inside of the cucumber flowers which makes them difficult to locate. I have not had success controlling them.


This year I am going to try something new and use a kaolin clay product, Surround WP. Surround is a finely ground white clay that is used to coat the leaves and stem of the plants you want to protect. It is not a pesticide but a deterrent to insect activity. It comes in a 25-pound bag and is mixed with water to form a slurry, which is either sprayed or used as a dip. Since I started my cucumbers inside in peat strips, I chose to dip the plants in a bucket of Surround for first application. Later on I will have to spray the plants to reapply it after a rain.





I used a small one gallon bucket to mix the slurry, adding water to the powder and stirring to get it wetted. I tried a stick at first but found my fingers were more effective. You want the slurry thin enough that it drips but does not run off the leaves.




When ready to plant, I took a peat strip, broke off the top edges so they will not stick out of the soil, and swirled the plant in the clay slurry.




Once the plant is reasonably coated, it is ready to put in the ground, looking like a white ghost. I wondered if the clay has a negative effect on the plant, but it apparently does not and has some advantages. The clay breathes and sunlight can get through so photosynthesis is not affected. At the same time, the clay prevents sunburn of new plants and reduces transplant shock.




Here is a row of newly planted Homemade Pickles, a pickling cucumber, looking quite ghostly.




The most difficult to plant were the Monika cukes above, a pickler from Poland. The plants were very compact so it was difficult to plant them without soil getting on and sticking to the wet clay.


Time will tell if this type of treatment works. UMass seems to think it does. It is important to start it at plant out because cucumbers are most susceptible when they are young (less than 5 sets of true leaves). Surround is widely used by commercial growers and both Johnnys and High Mowing Seeds use it in their fields. It is widely used in orchards and vineyards. And it is also useful for other plants and pests, such as flea beetles on eggplant, thrips on onions and squash vine borers and squash bugs, so I may apply it elsewhere in the garden, once I get a sprayer than can handle a wettable powder.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Brassica Update



This year I have a fifteen foot row of brassicas planted in the in-ground garden. I used black plastic mulch and they are covered with Agribon-19 spun bond row cover to ward off pests. Biggest problem is preventing the cover from blowing off in the frequent winds we are getting this Spring. The brassicas seem to like their environment and are looking very healthy. Most remarkable is the absence of pest damage from flea beetles and cabbage caterpillars. Last Sunday I opened up the tent to do some watering and harvest some kale, so I took a few photos to give you a tour of the tent.




This the the broccoli end of the row, with two varieties. Plants are large and healthy with no signs yet of heads forming. At least they are not bolting. Both varieties are new, based on recommendations of other gardeners.




This is Arcadia, first time I have grown this variety. It is a bit later but is supposed to have large heads and abundant side shoots.




And this is Fiesta, another first for me. Daphne has grown this one with success, so I decided to give it a try. Catalog descriptions do not mention side shoot production at all, but reviews by gardeners all mention prolific side shoot production.




In the middle are four Brussels spouts, the standard Jade Cross variety I picked up at a garden center. They are looking good but who knows if I will get anything. I have had one good year, which was fantastic. Sometimes the sprouts stay small, pea size, and never size up, despite pruning and curses . Other years the sprouts tend to loosen up and become leafy, a condition supposedly caused by excessive heat. Nothing I can do about that because I can’t control the weather, but sprouts have a long development period, so here they have to be grown through the summer months. Time will tell. Gardening is all about optimism, and I am optimistic I will get some this year.




To the left are the kales. That is Tronchuda Beira or Portuguese kale with the large leaves in the foreground, which is new to me this year. Further back is Beedy’s Camden kale, a reliable and hardy Siberian kale I have grown for years. I did not photograph the dinosaur kale because it was recently clipped, so nothing to see.

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