Dear Friends and Gardeners, June 21, 2010

Dear Carol, Mary Ann and all those who walk in the garden way,

This time of year, the sun is all smiles for the garden. In spite of the twelve inch in twenty-four hours rain, I discovered my plants were still thirsty a few days after especially in the front garden. After some investigation, I realized the rain washed all of the mulch away leaving a topsoil of mostly sand. Odd occurrence, and I made a note to replace leaf mold and pine bark mulch in a day or two.

Notice something new? I painted the chairs French blue.

I was watching Oklahoma Gardening this morning via the techno wonder of DVR, and I noticed OSU is testing Eastern redcedar mulch. If it works, it may be the solution to our Juniperis virginiana invasion. Let’s hope it works.

About the vegetable garden, I’m all smiles. I’m staying ahead of the squash bugs (barely), and I’ve eaten green beans, peppers and eggplant.

First tomato, a true 'Whopper'

I have a tomato!!!! Actually I have three. I harvested the first, ‘Whopper’, last week as it was turning. It is now a fleshy red, and I can’t wait to consume it this evening. Saturday, I picked two ripe ‘Arkansas Traveler’ tomatoes. They are small, but full of flavor. I’ve never had tomatoes so early before. Remember last year when I couldn’t grow a tomato to save my life?

A sad story about our chickens. We have a raccoon problem, and we’ve plugged every hole and reinforced all the wire with sterner stuff. A trap is also set up in the barn for this terrible scavenger. One of the reasons I hate raccoons so much is they attack at night when the chickens are sleeping and completely defenseless. I know other predators do too, but the raccoons are just sneakier and won’t quit until they’ve killed every chicken. We’ve lost eight chickens as of last count, but no chickens were lost the previous two nights. It’s maddening, but we’ll catch him or her.

Hemerocallis 'Victorian Lace' is a favorite of mine because it opens those ruffles perfectly every day. Ruffled daylilies often hang up and don't want to open.

The daylilies are blooming their fool heads off, and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is attracting pollinators like mad. More about that later. However, if you live in Oklahoma, TLC Nursery has small plants of the new Invincibelle Spirit for a very good price. It’s the pink ‘Annabelle’. I have two small ones.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' with pollinators drunk with joy

I have a post at the Lowe’s blog about focal points today if you want to take a look see. You can get a better look at my chairs which I painted French Blue according to Gail.

Love you all,

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.