Dear Friends and Gardeners June 14, 2010

Dear Carol, Mary Ann and all of our gardening friends,

A huge thunderstorm is roaring through much of Oklahoma this morning, and our weather station shows six inches of rain so far. I have the windows open because at 66F, it is wonderfully cool.

Potager in torrential thunderstorm with raindrops on the camera lens
Potager in torrential thunderstorm with raindrops on the camera lens

As for the veggie garden, the potager is turning out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. Because of its height, I find it very easy to harvest and weed. I just sit on the edge and do most of the work. Being a group of raised beds they warmed up quickly so the vegetables are ahead of schedule. Being deep, they retain moisture. It’s a win-win.

Barring any disaster, this should be a great tomato season. I have loads of little green tomatoes. In a few weeks, they will ripen, and I can’t wait to try the bruschetta recipe Joey posted. Hers is with wheat, but she also searched out a gluten free version.

Lots of green tomatoes on the vine promise good things later.
Lots of green tomatoes on the vine promise good things later.

Of the new vegetables I’ve tried so this year, Dragon Tongue bush beans are my favorite. With their purple stripes on green pods, they are very pretty on the plant, and they cook up to be a “meaty” green bean. I’ve used them in stir fries and more traditional preparations, and they are a keeper.

I have a funny story about green beans. When Bill and I first married, and I was selecting beans to grow, he assured me he didn’t want any of them. “They’re flat and fuzzy,” he said, “I only like ‘Blue Lake’ green beans in the can.”

It took awhile, but I discovered his grandmother only grew flat and fuzzy, prolific, but unpalatable green beans on the family farm. Therefore, Bill was adamant about not eating any green beans I planted. I pointed out canned ‘Blue Lake’ green beans started out in a garden somewhere, and I told him I would find those seeds. I did, and when I served them to him, he was elated. Now, we grow numerous varieties of green beans in our garden including the famous ‘Blue Lake’, but nothing flat or fuzzy.

That’s what gardening does. It expands our horizons.

In the other garden, I dug most of my potatoes last week. Have you ever eaten a potato straight from the garden? It has a buttery texture unlike those in the store. This year, I planted both red and white varieties. I’ve grown a lot of potatoes over the years, including some blue ones, and I still love the red skinned Red Pontiac best. Oklahoma State University’s HLA-6028 fact sheet on potato production profiles other varieties which perform well in our state.

Entry way to Northwest Classen. It looks exactly the same.
Entry way to Northwest Classen. It looks exactly the same.

Last weekend was my 30th high school reunion. Go Knights, Northwest Classen! I saw lots of old friends and made some new ones. I want to give a shout out to Dana’s husband, Nick, who is an avid vegetable gardener. We talked for quite a while Saturday about squash bug patrol and control until our spouses begged us to stop. He’s promised to stop by RDR and comment once in a while.

Here at RDR, we are on full squash bug alert. The garden must be checked each and every day even if it rains buckets. Rain will not drown squash bugs. They will simply hang on the underside of the leaves. Oh, and after this rain, we’ll need to reapply diatomaceous earth judiciously to the plants. Don’t get it anywhere near the blooms so your pollinators can do their thing without being hurt.

I’m also getting assistance from a mighty predator, the Assassin Bug. They are voracious and will eat anything. Just don’t smash them, or they will give you a nasty bite. I find them to be really creepy especially when they get bigger and fly, but I must admit they are a help with all types of “bad bugs.” Here is one on Echinacea ‘Coconut Lime’.

Assassin Bug hanging beneath Echinacea 'Coconut Lime'
Assassin Bug hanging beneath Echinacea ‘Coconut Lime’

This week, I received an email from a fellow garden clubber, Janet, who was worried about DE and her earthworms. Yes, if you work DE into the soil, it can hurt earthworms. I only put a bit around the plants and on the undersides of leaves where I actually see squash bug nymphs. I use a plastic hair coloring bottle to apply it exactly where I want it. Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful so always read package information.

Another friend asked me this week about malathion for control of a pretty innocuous pest, and I discouraged her. In our Facebook discussion, her husband wasn’t convinced malathion is dangerous.  If you’re also on the fence about what  we pour and spray onto our gardens and lawns, check out this 2008-2009 report from the U.S. Department of Health, National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute. As Bill and I drove through Arkansas last week, we saw crop dusters powdering the rice fields. Since it was white, I don’t think they were spreading manure, and both Bill and I found it alarming. I often feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness, but we must become more aware of how chemicals affect our bodies over long term use.

Male squash flower
Male squash flower

On a happier note, the squash are just starting to bloom with male flowers. As you know, male flowers bloom first, and the females, with their tiny ovums at their base, begin blooming right after. I’ve already seen two, withered unfertilized squash which indicates pollinator activity is down. I will probably strip a couple of male flowers and fertilize the squash myself. This summer, I also want to try fried squash blossoms as I’ve never eaten them.

Barred Rock hen
Barred Rock beauty

On a sad note, we lost three Barred Rock hens this week to a fox. Apparently, the three bedded down in the other pen, and we didn’t know. The door was open, and Mr. or Mrs. Fox got all three of them. I can’t tell you how I sad I am, or how bad I feel.

Well, that’s all for this week. Hope things are growing great in your world too.

Best and easiest vegetables to grow in Oklahoma

The vegetable patch at the beginning of July, 2012
A tomato (left) and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce growing in the potager.
A tomato (left) and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce growing in the potager (kitchen garden.)

On my stats page, I’ve noticed I’m getting a lot of searches for which vegetables grow best in Oklahoma.  First let me say, growing anything in Oklahoma is a dare.  You never know if spring will suddenly end, and 108F weather will linger for days; or, whether a hail storm or a tornado will foul things up.  Oh, and God bless the freakin’ deer, raccoons, rabbits and squirrels.  What they don’t eat, they dig up and tear apart.

Whew!  Now, with those caveats, the following are my best picks for the easiest vegetables to grow in Oklahoma.

  • Lettuce. Get it in early enough (plant seeds outdoors at the end of February), and you will have success.  Spinach isn’t always so accommodating.  Lettuce grows very well in containers, so if you have even a small balcony, you can also have fresh salads.  The leaf, bibb and romaine types are the easiest in that order.  Black Seeded Simpson is a classic.
  • Kale and Chard. Plant seeds the same time as lettuce.  One word:  easy.

    Red chard is beautiful, tasty and good for you.
    Red chard is beautiful, tasty and really good for you.
  • Green or Spring onions. Plant onion sets (those little bulbs you see at the nursery) at the same time you plant your lettuce.  Again, simple and easy.
  • Snow peas and peas with edible pods.  Both of these types of peas are easily grown in Oklahoma.  Shelling peas are a bit harder because our spring can suddenly quit before the pods are fully filled out.
  • Most herbs love containers, so they are another good deck or balcony choice.  I usually buy one or two basil plants to get a head start and then plant seeds.  There are many, different types of basil.  Get the one you want for the type of cooking you like.  I’m especially fond of Genovese and Thai basil, but  I grow many others.  All are good.  Parsley, both curly and flat, is easy.  So are the many thymes.  The only one I’ve ever had trouble with is fuzzy thyme.  It wouldn’t grow for me.  Sage is easily grown and is perennial.  I found oregano to be invasive in my garden, so I would only grow it in a container.  All the mints are bad boys who want to take over, so again, use containers.  I especially like spearmint and chocolate mint.  Rosemary is a tender perennial here.  Sometimes it overwinters and sometimes not.  It is lovely in roasted chicken.  So is sage.

    Culinary sage is pretty in the garden.
    Culinary sage is pretty in the garden.
  • Summer squash.  What would summer in Oklahoma be without summer squash sauteed, wok fried, or fried like my Grandma Nita used to do?  Our family loves zucchini, yellow crookneck and straight neck and spaghetti squash.  I’m trying a couple of other varieties this year too.  We’ll see how they perform in my sunny potager.  Just remember to pick them small.  No one likes baseball-bat-sized zucchini.
  • Tomatoes.  Set out plants well after the last frost date (approx. April 20).  If you’re an inexperienced gardener, stick with those which have symbols for built-in disease resistance.  This will often be listed on the tag as a group of letters.  You’ll just save yourself a lot of time and agony.  Heirlooms do taste wonderful, but so does almost any homegrown tomato compared to that in the store.  I find heirlooms are often harder to grow with the exception of Cherokee Purple and Arkansas Traveler.  They generally perform well here.  My other picks are:  Super Fantastic, Park’s Whopper, Rutgers (often listed as an heirloom, but it was developed at Rutgers University, so I don’t know), Beefsteak and Supersteak for my slicers; Roma and Roma II are okay for a paste tomato; Celebrity is early, but not a fave of mine.  For cherry tomatoes, Supersweet 100, Sungold (the best yellow ever; wish I could find it), Yellow Pear, Chocolate Cherry and Sweet Million.  Cherry tomatoes are generally easy and adapt well to container gardening.
  • Beans, especially green beans are oh-so-easy.  The easiest for me are the bush beans like Contender and the regular Blue Lake.  I found the improved Blue Lakes had less vigor.  I don’t know why.  Sometimes you can’t improve on a good thing.
  • Melons like cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon are simple fruits to grow in our heat.  Their blooms are also beloved by pollinators. Our favorite cantaloupe is Ambrosia.  I like Moon and Stars watermelon, but I’m trying a couple of other varieties this year.
  • Pumpkins and other winter squash are pretty simple to grow too.  They require a long warm season to develop, so read the package to make sure you get your squash planted at just the right moment.  You don’t want the pumpkins to ripen before Halloween.
  • Potatoes, most any kind do well if you plant them by St. Patrick’s Day, easy to remember because he’s one of the patron saints of Ireland.  I like new, red potatoes so that’s the type I grow.  I always eat them before they get to full size.  I must have something with my green beans.

    Best and easiest vegetables to grow in Oklahoma.
    Potatoes and asparagus. No, you’re not supposed to grow them together. Long story.
  • Okra, a relative of hibiscus, which adores our weather, needs its space, but it is also easy to grow.  Just remember to pick it daily once it starts forming pods.  Large pods are tough customers no one wants to eat.
  • Corn is wonderful if you can keep it from the raccoons.  I especially love the variety Bodacious.
  • Strawberries.  Takes about three years before you get a decent berry crop.  You’re supposed to pinch off the blossoms the first summer, and yes, I know it’s hard, but your berries will produce better in the following year.

That’s all I can think of for now.  This year, try growing some of your own veggies, you’ll be amazed at the taste.  Just start with a small raised garden.  I saw a couple of kits at Lowe’s this week.  Put down some black landscape cloth, buy decent soil, and plant a few seeds or plants.  Then, just water and wait.  You’ll thank me in a month or two.  Oh, and be sure to plant a few flowers for the pollinators.  The flowers are pretty and lure them in next to your veggies.