Why Are There Flowers in the Vegetable Garden?

The easiest and quickest answer to my post’s question is “why NOT flowers in the vegetable garden?” But of course there are lots of answers to this question.

When I first started my garden, I had just one sunny garden, so I just naturally grew all my sun loving flowers and my vegetables together. There didn’t seem to be anything strange about that–and I wasn’t growing castor beans, so it wasn’t really a problem.

Gradually, the flowers overtook that garden, so I moved the veggies up to a raised bed in a different part of the yard. But I didn’t omit the flowers. Why?

First of all, we need flowers if we want vegetables, if you remember my post from last Friday about some of my retail gardening customers who used a few too many pesticides and had no bees and therefore no vegetables. So flowers will lure in the bees and other pollinators to the garden and while they’re there bumbling around (sometimes literally) they’ll be happy to pollinate your vegetables for you as well so long as you’re not poisoning them into oblivion.

Next flowers can be beneficial in luring some not so nice insects away from your perfectly tasty crops. Aphids are a mild pest in my part of the country but in other parts of the country I know they’re a 12 month nuisance. There are plants that repel them and plants that attract them. In my garden, I have always found that nasturtiums were aphid magnets. I’ve not seen this listed anywhere but all I need to do is to plant them and the next thing I know they’re covered in aphids. It’s a shame too because I love to grow them for their edible qualities and I can rarely get them to last long enough.

Many herbs will repel aphids, particularly those one would expect like onions, garlic and chives. One that is a bit unexpected is feverfew, but be cautious about letting that self-sow or you’ll have it forever. I don’t mind–you might.

Wordless Wednesday

Edible garden

I’ve just come back from a long weekend in Ogunquit, Maine. Are you going to see any pictures of the water? (Ogunquit means “Beautiful Place by the Sea in a native language?) Only accidentally. It’s not that I don’t find the sea and the Marginal Way glorious; it’s that I can’t tear myself away from the gardens.

edibles

This was one in front of a restaurant right on the water. All of the plants were edible. They looked so healthy I actually had to touch the chard to make sure it was real!

edibles with grape vine

Finally this one shows the grape vines. Altogether, this was an amazing garden in a tiny space!

My “Memorial” Day Garden

vegetable garden

I know–this looks as unlike an “Memorial” Day garden you’ve every seen. What on earth could I mean by that?

Long time readers know exactly what I mean and why I say this.  Every year, I plant my tomatoes–and my vegetable garden in general–on Memorial Day.   Why?

Probably a small part of it has to do with “memorializing” or remembering my heritage. All the old Italians say that it’s not safe to plant tomatoes or herbs in my region until Memorial Day. Since I tend to agree with that, that’s what I do.

But there’s a far more personal reason as well.

I grow my tomatoes–at least some of them from seed. I always have. But I don’t grow them just for me. I grow them for a neighbor who’s a WWII vet. I also grow peppers for him.

I grow them for our “work” garden.

And back when he was still alive, I used to grow them for my Dad, who was also a WWII vet.

So when I deliver the tomatoes and peppers to my neighbor this weekend, and plant my own tomatoes, it’s my small way of honoring and remembering the vets on Memorial Day. I can’t help but remember my Dad, who was the gardener in the family and from whom I got my love of gardening.

Unorthodox yes. But for me it works.

How Can Summer Be Over?!

When I was a kid, summer ended on Labor Day. That was when we packed up the “shore house,” (more or less) and returned to the “regular house” to start school. Of course, just into my teens we moved to the shore, so there was no more of that–we just watched other families do it and give our island paradise back to us.

These days, school doesn’t end until practically July 4th. And kids go back to school before Labor Day–a result of too many “snow” days that sometimes have nothing to do with snow, but with freak tropical storms or other disasters.

My town started school on August 26 and the neighboring town on August 27 this year–it was practically in the 90s! There’s something wrong about that. It was presumably our last “heat wave” of summer, although there will still be warm days.

vegetable garden

And then there’s this: un-ripened tomatoes all over the place, a product of too many cool nights in the low 60s and sometimes upper 50s! I know I’m not alone in this; I’ve seen other garden bloggers lamenting the same thing.

While there are plenty of warm days ahead, the sun is at a much lower angle now and the gardens are just not getting the heat and intensity these plants need to ripen. Many of these tomatoes will ripen. And many of them will ripen, all winter long, on platters in my basement. They’ll be delicious–much better than store-bought–and I’ll have homegrown tomatoes up to the holidays probably.

But it’s just not the same as having them in the heat of them summer, fresh from the vine. Luckily I planted some cherry tomatoes too, and they obliged me!

My Memorial Day Tradition

vegetable garden

I pretty much post about this same thing every Memorial Day because I pretty much do this same thing every Memorial Day weekend. No matter what the weather, I find a time when I can get my tiny vegetable garden planted.

long shot of garden

This is a somewhat better shot of the garden from above–at least the shadows are consistent.

Before you start thinking that that’s the weirdest Memorial Day tradition you’ve ever heard, I’ll tell you why I do it. Probably my earliest gardens that I remember planting were tiny little vegetable gardens at summer homes at the Jersey shore. They held nothing but tomatoes–I don’t even know how many nor do I recall where we got them but I remember helping my Dad tend them–or tending them for him since he was one of the Dads who worked elsewhere during the week while my Mom and I and my sister got to spend the week at the shore. Then he’d come down every Thursday or Friday night for the weekend and go back on Monday for the week.

Much later on, when I was growing my own gardens from seed, I would start my tomatoes, and tomatoes for my Dad (and for a neighbor, too, in later years). Both my Dad and the neighbor, coincidentally, are WWII veterans.

My Dad is no longer alive but I still grow seeds for my neighbor and me. And so it seems fitting to plant on Memorial Day, not only to honor the memory of my Dad but to try to preserve this day as something other than “just a day” when it might be used to go to the beach or the mall.

As Usual, I Am Late To The Party

I thank the venerable blog Garden Rant for calling my attention to this post about the “decay” in the White House kitchen garden during the recent government shutdown.

By Day 4 of the shutdown (that would have been October 4) vegetables were described as “mouldering” on the vines, weeds were “springing up everywhere,” allegedly there were mushrooms running amok and–horror of horrors! there was leaf litter that had fallen from the trees!

Excuse me, but isn’t this an organic garden? I’ll agree that rotting veggies isn’t a good thing and weeds probably aren’t optimal either (just please don’t look at my gardens). But leaf litter? That’s about the best kind of compost there is. And mushrooms? Surely there’s nothing wrong with those. If anything, it indicates that the garden is probably over-irrigated to me!

Worse yet, a photo on the blog shows a man standing there with a watering wand, hand-watering! That’s hardly the best sustainable practice. No wonder there are mushrooms!

And the “wildlife” that’s running amok? Birds, squirrels and a fox, all helping themselves to the garden bounty now that it is not being regularly tended by an army of gardeners.

In truth, now that the garden is not being regularly tended, and plants aren’t being swapped out at the first sign of imperfection, it looks like any one of our gardens might.

Herbs are flowering because they are annuals at the end of their lifespan (i.e. the basils).

Tomatoes have pretty much reached the limit of their production too and have naturally succumbed to something too. The ‘Sungold’ were pictured as falling over and pretty much dead of something–late blight or a wilt, with lots of tomatoes on the ground for the wildlife to enjoy.

This isn’t decay and mouldering; this is the natural cycle of a vegetable garden–an over-watered vegetable garden perhaps, but a vegetable garden.

It is a shame that the remaining good crops weren’t being harvested during the 2 1/2 week shutdown. But I’m sure that not nearly as much “decay” went on in there as we were led to believe!

Autumn’s Arrival

This year, astronomical autumn and “gardening” autumn arrived pretty much at the same time for me. Astronomical autumn–for most folks, they know this as the autumnal equinox or simply the first day of fall–arrived at 4:44 EDT on September 22. Meteorologists, of course, had already celebrated autumn’s arrival on September 1.

But on September 21, I pulled out all my tomatoes. This had already been a dismal gardening season, tomato-wise. I had enjoyed a few of the smaller, cherry-type tomatoes, but not a single large tomato had ripened on the vine for me. And with night time temperatures regularly in the lower 50s and occasionally in the upper 40s, I knew I wasn’t going to be seeing any vine ripened tomatoes anytime soon.

So I pulled up the plants, carefully removing any tomato that looked as if it had a reasonable chance of ripening in my “secret indoor ripening place” (in other words, in my basement, near my furnace.)

In prior years when I have done this, I’ve gotten at least 3 platters full. This year, the green tomatoes barely filled 1 platter. That’s how dismal a year this was for tomatoes for me.

What can I blame? The deer that ate the tops off the tomatoes just as they were beginning to grow? The remarkably wet June? The remarkably cool nights, beginning in July (tomatoes need warm nights to ripen and we had nights in the upper 50s and low 60s beginning July 25!)? The tomato hornworms, which I can’t recall having in recent memory?

It’s probably some combination of all of the above. But as a gardener who lives for those ripe tomatoes, this was one disappointing season.

On the plus side, even with the deer, there was a bonanza of pole beans. And the lettuce was pretty good too. So there’s always something good about the garden.

What Happened to My….

chewed hosta leaves

This is a prime example of why you shouldn’t automatically spray a pesticide when you see chewed leaves. Because while there’s no denying that these leaves have been chewed, in this case, the remedy calls for a repellent, not an insecticide.

The hosta has provided a tasty snack for the resident groundhog (or woodchuck, depending on your regional preference–it’s still the same animal) family. These creatures are one of the most notoriously difficult garden pests. They tunnel, they climb and they have voracious appetites for greenery. And once a woodchuck has established a liking for your property, he will return year after year to mate and raise a family, ensuring repeated destruction.

The only proven method of control is fencing that not only extends four feet in height, but also goes at least a foot underground–and this proves impractical for most folks. Some call in a licensed wildlife person to relocate the animal.

In some states, it is legal to shoot them–it is not legal to do so in my state (much to the chagrin of some gardeners, I know.) I have gotten extremely lucky by planting herbs around the perimeter of the vegetable garden and only putting in peppers and tomatoes. He (or she) has sampled a pepper, found it not to his liking and has left the rest of the garden in peace for two years in a row. I can’t promise this approach will work for everyone.

Repellents to try would be the same ones that would work for deer and rabbits (but do not try them on edibles unless the label specifically says that they are approved for use on edibles!) and would be those that contain hot pepper, perhaps mixed with rotten egg.

To Graft or Not to Graft

When the New York Times, which writes about gardening about as often as I write about dog grooming, writes about grafted tomatoes, you know we’re onto a trend here. But there it was, at the end of May–a 3 page (online) article about grafted tomatoes.

To be sure, they’re a little late to the game. Grafted tomatoes have been around for awhile. I grew my first last year one last year, and even then, I felt like I was getting into the game late.

Margaret Roach has been blogging about them for a couple of years now. They’re available in several widely respected mail order catalogs. Mine last year came from Territorial and the Times talks about White Flower Farm as well.

This year, I am trialing 3 different varieties for Harris seed. I am trialing heirloom grafted tomatoes next to ungrafted tomatoes to compare vigor, and yield, among other things. Harris recommended that I plant each variety side by side in the same bed, so I did. It’s going to be an interesting experiment, if my experience with last year’s grafted plants is any indication.

Last year, I ordered 1 plant from Territorial, a ‘Tomaccio’ cherry tomato. The only reason I ordered the plant was because I couldn’t get the seed, and to be honest, I didn’t realize it was a grafted plant when I ordered it.

It arrived about a foot tall with a tiny tomato already on it. I planted it and it took off! I think I was harvesting within 5 weeks or so–and every time I walked by the plant, I had dozens of cherry tomatoes to choose from to pop into my mouth. It was a fabulous experience.

The plant was $5.95 and shipping from the West Coast was as pricey as the tomato. It might be less so from an Eastern grower, although with gas prices, perhaps not.

Still, for someone with a very short growing season, this was absolute heaven. Tomatoes are the “holy grail’ for most gardeners and I know very few that don’t want them earlier.

That being said, I think it pays to concentrate on varieties that really produce, like smaller fruiting varieties. For me, ‘Brandywine’ has always given me about 3 tomatoes before frost. So even if the grafted variety doubles the output, what can I expect? 6? I’m hoping for better things from the ‘San Marzano’ that I’m growing. Time will tell.

My Memorial Day Remembrance

portion of vegetable garden

Happy Memorial Day! On this day when we celebrate all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces to preserve our freedom, I have created my own little tradition to honor my late father, a World War II veteran, an my neighbor, also a World War II veteran.

Because in my part of the country the soil isn’t reliably warm until Memorial Day, I wait to plant the tomatoes and peppers into my vegetable garden until then. How can this possibly honor anyone? Well, until my Dad passed away, I would start tomato seedlings for him. I still start tomato and pepper seedlings for my neighbor, who’s now in his 90s (and still gardening, bless his heart!)

So when I am planting my own garden, I am also thinking of these two men, and of all our veterans. It may seem silly, but it’s definitely a way to keep my Dad’s memory alive and present to me because we both shared a love of gardening.

Of course, this year my tradition backfired a little. In the week preceding Memorial Day, it was sunny and in the 80s to low 90s all week–perfect tomato weather.

Then of course, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, a front came through. It was cold, dreary and damp. The high didn’t make it to 50 degrees.

But that’s okay. We surely needed the rain and as I always say, we have 2 seasons in this state: winter and July. July will be here shortly and I do have to get the garden planted at some point. So here we go, like it or not.

Now I just have to get up my nerve to clean the pond!