Thursday, July 29, 2010

No more waiting. The tomatoes have arrived

The tomatoes are finally here. We picked our first black and yellow cherries yesterday. They are sweet and tasty. The beefsteaks taste great too. The German greens and chocolate stripes are the first arrivals, and we had them for dinner last night with mozzarella, fresh basil and a little olive oil drizzled on top, a dish we never get tired of. Our Cherokee purple and Brandywines, still green, should ripen in the next week or two. One disappointment so far this season: the chocolate stripe plant is not very productive. It was the first to bear fruit and is now the first with ripe tomatoes, but so far, just four tomatoes are hanging from its bushy vines. I can count dozens of  German greens, brandywines and Cherokees. I can't imagine why. It's produced plenty of flowers. I hope it catches up with its cousins soon...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Birds, bees and cucumbers

There's been a mini discussion going on here regarding on earlier post lamenting my lack of cucumbers. All summer, I've been waiting for them to appear. We bought seeds in the spring and planted them as directed, though in a large pot, not in the ground. We figured we'd try "picklebush" cukes which are "perfect for small gardens" according to the Burpee package. They sprouted quickly and came up strong, producing small yellow flowers within a week or two. Then, nothing. No fruit.
Consulting the Internet, I quickly found out that cucumbers are particularly dependent on bees. They have male and female flowers (as one commenter points out on my earlier post) and need the bees to pollinate them.

Our terrace generally attracts a lot of bees right here in Manhattan. But this summer, we've found them few and far between. Maybe its a lack of flowers to attract them. Our impatiens just have not liked this heat.
I read that using an electric toothbrush can simulate bees and trotted out to my cucumber plants, device in hand. I buzzed away with the metal end, touching what I figured were male plants and then the females.
And voila, a week later - two cukes growing! Small, yes, and only two, but something that resembles food at last!
Then, I noticed a more natural buzzing. Finally, the bees had discovered our terrace. Now, they're dancing among the tomatoes and frolicking on the cucumber flowers, sampling eggplant pollen and bell pepper pollen too. So, could it have been my toothbrush or was it the bees that spurred the fruit before I'd noticed their arrival? And why did the bees suddenly appear?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Early harvest

Yes, we're still waiting for tomatoes, the main event in any urban garden. But these peppers and eggplants, some of the first fruits of our labor, made the freshest of ingredients for a delicious ratatouille on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, after a quick trip to the Union Square Green Market for supplemental veggies, we made a stir fry with fresh onion and garlic and a black bean sauce. Yum!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The dreaded blossom end rot

Oh no! Our Cherokee Purple has been stricken with blossom end rot. We thought we'd beat the dreaded tomato disease by fertilizing early with Hoffman Tomato Food 5 10 10, a mixture that's 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potash (see my earlier post on the subject.) Yet, there it is, on the bottoms of our big beefsteaks. 

The good news: only a handful of the Cherokee tomatoes are affected. It's often the early fruit that gets marked. The best remedy is to clip the diseased fruit off the vines so the energy goes into newer, healthy production. And in fact, the younger tomatoes on our Cherokee plant are growing rot free.

Even better, our other tomato plants are entirely free of the unsightly blemishes. The Brandywines are growing beautifully, as are the German greens and the black and yellow cherries. We can't wait to harvest them. The big black cherries are almost vine ripened and ready for picking.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yogis run farm in Upstate New York

So, the great gardening trend of the 21st century continues unabated in the city and around it.

Each of the past three summers, I’ve taken a weekend trip to Ananda Ashram to enjoy yoga, meditation, vegetarian cuisine and the not-so-Zen swimming pool (hey, even Yogis have to cool off.)

The difference this year: Ananda has added organic farming to its list of amenities. The food has always been tasty, but now, some of it is home grown.

Ananda boasts two huge plots loaded with fresh garlic, greens, squash and peppers, and a cold-frame green house filled with tomato plants getting ready to yield a healthy harvest.

One of the biggest challenges for the volunteer farmers is deer. The 85-acre grounds just an hour or so from New York City, is a playground for the growing population of the lovable animals. They can be seen frolicking in the early mornings and evenings. Unfortunately, they are determined to share the harvest.

Currently, the plots are surrounded by heavy plastic deer fencing, which seems to work, and fresh produce is growing strong. Electronic deer fencing, which is cheaper, was considered and rejected as too cruel.

Over the weekend, I was lucky to enjoy several dishes filled with home grown zucchini as well as plenty of salad greens.

Farming at Ananda has a history. Dave, who’s been an Ashram resident for more than 30 years, tended the original organic garden at Ananda from 1972 to 1980. But when the board decided to install a swimming pool (yes that swimming pool) his garden was bulldozed.

Last December, his son, who was born at the Ashram, came up with the idea to create the current farm, thanks to all the publicity about local growers and food borne illnesses. He’s also helping Dad and the rest of the Ananda team build an Eco-village resort on the grounds.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Urban Gardener Weekend Update: Waiting for Tomato!

The waiting is the hardest part!
We brought eggplants to my Aunt Joan in Southampton this weekend, and she whipped up a delicious ratatouille. But the peppers and tomatoes are still at least two or three weeks away from harvest. Meanwhile, my most productive lettuce plants have given up their last. I'm hoping the ones I planted from seed will grow big and leafy once I transplant them to the larger window box.
One thing I keep learning as an urban gardener is that it's always a learning experience. Weather conditions are so changeable. They bring new trials each season. Last summer was cold and wet, causing tomato blight. This summer, record-breaking heat could cause a different set of problems. So far, our plants look healthy and strong, so I am looking forward to a good harvest. Of course, only time will tell...

Chocolate stripes going strong and our tomato plants are growing tall
These eggplants were delicious in Ratatouille!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Paltz tastes good!

We spent the July 4th holiday weekend with our friends Harriet and Dave in New Paltz. Though they don't have their own garden, they belong to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at Phillies Bridge Farm, so they get plenty of fresh vegetables all summer. Though sometimes the allotments are small, and you have to take what they give you, luckily, Dave can whip up creative dishes on a dime. We ate like gourmands all weekend without ever hitting a restaurant. Star attractions: Zucchini risotto, vegetable frittata with goat cheese and farm stand corn on the grill. Let's not forget the freshly baked Pullman loaf and the blueberry jam made with wild blueberries picked on the Minewaska State Park trails. It wasn't all veg all the time. We snuck in grilled lamb, grass fed beef burgers and good old American was the Fourth, after all...

Dave picks out Zucchini

A chef and his chard

Salad greens, lovingly prepared

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Urban Gardener Weekend Update: Watering system beats the heat; where are the cukes?

We spent this fourth of July weekend enjoying a different kind of garden, the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)  cooperative in New Paltz, where we were visiting friends. What a great way to get fresh produce while letting someone else do the digging and weeding. The CSA was distributing Swiss chard, zucchini, beets, radishes, purple onions and a few other farm fresh veggies, Our hosts prepared truly gourmet meals every night creatively using all the green ingredients. I'll be posting more on that later in the week.

Meanwhile, with the temperatures nearing 100 degrees in Manhattan, our wondrous watering system allowed us the flexibility to garden in absentia. We purchased parts from The Drip Store  on the advice of our neighbor and fellow gardener Jan. My husband Mitch assembled the system two years ago. After our terrace renovation, we had to replace a few parts, and we added PVC tubing to cover the length of our terrace using elbow joints to go around the corners.

We've set the timer to go off twice a day, at 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. for five minutes each time.
We adjust the drip system to provide less water to the lettuce seedlings
Watering the basil requires a more robust flow
The Cherokee Purple and other tomato plants require the most water in our garden.

While we tried to keep cool in Lake Minewaska, the plants really thrived in the heat. The eggplants exploded with ripe fruit that is ready for harvest.  The tomato plants must've grown several inches taller and we have plenty of green tomatoes growing fast. One concern: our cucumbers are flowering, but so far, no fruit. As the cukes are a new vegetable for us, I don't know if they're slow to fruit or just not getting the right stuff. If anyone knows about growing cukes, please leave a post on the site with your advice!