Monday, August 30, 2010

Oh No! Hornworms in our garden

Oh woe is me! The horrible hornworms have invaded! Friday morning I noticed unusual droppings below the big Brandywine tomato plant. I was heading off to work, so I swept them aside and  hoped there wouldn't be more strange black blobs when I returned. But a nagging voice in my head said, "I hope it isn't doo doo..."
Well, sure enough, later that evening, when Mitch got home, he found more droppings. He then discovered the nasty green goblins chewing up our plant! Four of them no less! Those creatures are incredibly destructive. The last time we saw hornworms in our tomato garden was years ago, when we bought starter plants from the Union Square Green Market. We haven't had the problem since we began growing from seeds. I don't know how long they've been hiding among the green leaves this season. I certainly didn't see any obvious signs. A quick tour of the Internet told me that these creatures come from giant hawk moths. The pupae could have been in the soil for a year!  The green monsters can grow up to 4 fat inches long. At any rate, I'm sure glad we caught on before the nasty bugs devoured too many of our juicy tomatoes. They did get their tiny little jaws into two Brandywines (see photo below.) To be sure none of their brethren were lurking in the leaves, we got out the bottle of Schultz insect spray. (We try to use that very sparingly as it is a toxic insecticide, but for hornworms, we decided to make an exception.) I did find one more on Sunday, on the yellow cherry tomatoes. Once again I followed the poop! They're so hard to spot that one must look directly up from the droppings, which were on the ground and the leaves just under the worm. We'll have to keep a much closer eye on the plants for the rest of the season and pluck off any worms immediately. That's the best defense that I can think of. Has anyone else out there experienced these icky pests? Please let us know how you think they got into our garden and our best bet to get rid of them for good.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rainy weekend update: tomato havoc

Ugh! We returned from a wet weekend away to find all of our tomato plants knocked over by the weekend storm and sprawled on the terrace. This was not a pretty sight! Every year, towards the end of summer, as the plants get taller and bushier, we go through disasters. This summer, we'd gotten away pretty much scott free thanks to such hot, dry weather. Not any more.
We arrived home at about 8 pm this evening and discovered the fallout zone. Because it was already dark, it's hard to assess the total toll of lost fruit. But a look with a flash light revealed plenty of ripe tomatoes that had burst their skins. And our orange pepper plant got crushed by the falling tomato plant, lopping off two large branches full of new growth. That's a shame cause those peppers tasted great. 
Now, I'm wondering if next season we ought to grow smaller, determinate tomatoes that don't get quite so tall and top heavy. It really is stressful to come back to so much destruction!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tomato Explosion on E. 25th St.

It's August, and yes, we have ripe tomatoes! Lots of 'em. We returned from a long weekend away to find our vines dripping with ripe fruit of every shape and hue. Hearty German Greens, juicy Cherokee Purples and plenty of yellow cherries. We have a bumper crop of bell peppers too, red, yellow, orange and green. Even the eggplants are back into production after a short pause.
Every August, we go through tomato overload, not that I'm complaining! Being able to step outside and pick a fresh tomato off the vine is quite a luxury for a Manhattanite. And for that I am very grateful...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vacations are great, but what about the tomatoes?

We're taking a few days off and heading to Cape Cod. I'm really looking forward to the trip. But, we're leaving an awful lot of tomatoes on the table (well, ripening on the vines.) Ditto the bell peppers. And don't forget all that arugula I just planted! I hope all this produce doesn't go to pot while we're away. We spend so much time and effort planting and pruning and weeding and worrying, and now that the harvest is upon us, off we go?  Maybe I should have planned our trip for July, before the harvest season.
Then again, it is only five days. And we have been eating plenty of tomatoes for the past two weeks. And I do have a cat sitter staying at our place who will hopefully partake in some of the bounty. And there's plenty of fruit that's still green, which will be waiting for us when we get back. Ah, yes, I'm feeling better already...can't wait to enjoy the surf.
See ya next week!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hits and Misses

At about this time of year, we begin to take stock of our garden, and decide which crops were hits and which were misses. Every year we plant some old favorites and try some new ideas. Not everything works out.The weather plays a big role in how the plants prosper, as does location and style. For urban gardeners like us, we need to plant crops that grow well in pots. Tomatoes and peppers make sense. Corn, potatoes, and say, beets, are less sensible choices considering the space constraints.
As in years past, our tomatoes are the stars of the garden. Once again, our Brandywine has produced big, juicy tomatoes with a rich flavor. Our Cherokee Purple is loaded with tomatoes that are on the cusp of ripening. And we've had great luck with our German green. It's produced a bumper crop of fruit that is sizable and hearty, but not acidic.
We've had mixed results from the two heirloom cherry varieties we tried this summer. The yellow cherry plant has been very productive, but I find the fruit a bit too mild. The black cherries are full of flavor, but they are quite large, which means there are fewer of them. Next year, I think we'll go back to the Angora super sweets. They were bountiful and delicious. 
By far our biggest disappointment has been the Chocolate Stripe. It was a quick starter, but then quit producing. So far, we've harvested only three or four tomatoes and there are just a couple on the vine. I can only hope it becomes a late bloomer. Despite its superior smokey flavor and attractive appearance I would not try it again.
The cucumbers disappointed as well. I had high hopes for the little picklers, but so far, despite my best efforts to pollinate with an electric toothbrush, and the intervention of the bumble bees, I've gotten only three cucumbers from 5 or 6 plants. Compare that with dozens of Japanese eggplants and countless bell peppers growing on our four strong plants. I'm not entirely ready to call it quits on the cukes, however. Next year, I may try another variety. Our first effort at eggplant, the big black variety, was a bust too.
The biggest surprise was how easy it has been to grow lettuce! Though the early crop has finally been done in by the heat, I had a two month constant supply of salad greens from a $5 investment in starter plants. Now that they've all gone to seed, I have planted arugula and radicchio. So, gardening friends, what are your hits and misses? I'd love to know what worked for you...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tomato saver stumps TSA

Clearing security is never easy, but who knew a tomato would stump the TSA. I was heading to Seattle last weekend to visit my friend Barbara. She has her own urban garden, but alas, cold cloudy weather has crimped her tomato plants. I decided to surprise her with one of my heirlooms that had just ripened on the vine amid the hottest July ever in NYC. I placed the Chocolate stripe in my handy tomato saver (a birthday gift from my friend Meredith) and stuck it in my knapsack to carry on the plane. At the airport I loaded my bags onto the conveyor belt, pulled off my shoes and stepped through the metal detector. I figured I was good to go, until an agent grabbed my knapsack and asked for a bag check. She rummaged through, pulled out the plastic orange container and looked at me quizzically, as if to say "what the f*&%&%??." I couldn't help laughing. "Oh, that's just a tomato," I said. "I grew it myself." To be sure, she waved her bomb wand over the ripe fruit, cracked a little smile, and let me go. Six hours later, that tomato made a very nice addition to a Quinoa and cabbage salad.