Friday, June 29, 2012

Why red tomatoes don't always taste good

So, now we know why store bought tomatoes taste so, well, tasteless. According to an article in The New York Times, commercial tomato farmers plant varieties that have been bred with a genetic mutation that makes them ripen to a perfectly rosey red. But that gene also inhibits their flavor. As they grow, they produce less of the sugar and aroma that enhances their taste. Thankfully heirloom tomatoes, the kind we grow, are all natural. They may not be uniformly red from the stem to the tip. In fact they are almost always misshapen, oddly colored and cracked. But they sure taste great!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's eating my broccoli

It never fails. For every bit of good luck in the garden, there's little bad to go with it. I wrote earlier about how well my broccoli plants--new crops added this season--were doing. Just days after harvesting the first little floret, I woke up to this scene: mysterious pin holes on the Piracicaba leaves. Silver Heights Farm, which sells the organically grown plants at Union Square Green Market suggested that flea beetles were eating my brassica. These tiny pests jump around, so they are hard to find and hard to eradicate. I read that the beetles overwinter in the soil and then lay eggs in the spring. The minute larva eat the roots, though that doesn't usually cause significant damage. When the larva become beetles, however, they start feasting on the leaves creating little "shot holes." This may or may not kill the host, depending on the extent of the infestation and the strength of the plant. But lo and behold, the bugs eating my broccoli were not beetles at all. They were cabbage worms - tiny green caterpillars that blend in perfectly with the plant. I found them one morning last week at the crack of dawn. Dozens of them clinging to the leaves and consuming them. I pulled them off one by one and then sprayed with the same Safer Caterpillar Killer that we use to get rid of tomato horn worms. Cabbage worms are larva of white moths, which lay eggs on the leaves. Since spraying, I haven't seen evidence of the pests, so I'm hopeful that the Piracicaba will recover. Now, I hate to point fingers, but I find that every time I buy seedlings from Silver Heights Farms, they come with nasty bugs. I vow every time to avoid the booth, but it does have some of the most interesting veggie varieties, so I have trouble passing it up. Just two weekends ago we bought a Tunisian Backlouti pepper from Silver Heights. We have not seen any bugs yet, but who knows what's lurking.

Flea beetles were not eating our brassica

Cabbage worms were devouring the Piracicaba

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Spring strawberries

We've had lovely strawberries (not an overwhelming amount, but sweet and tasty ones) through June. We bought a terracotta strawberry pot last season and added some plants from Home Depot to the ones we had been growing for a few years in a plastic container. This has has helped the yield...a bit. Though I have to admit that we've had better luck buying farm fresh at the Union Square Green Market. Even better, our friends Harriet and Dave dropped off a gift of fresh berries from Dressel Farms in New Paltz last weekend. Included was a jar of Big House jam! Now, our strawberries are petering out as we head into blueberry season. Too bad they don't come at the same time...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

This weekend I added sage and thyme to the parsley, basil, rosemary, chives, oregano, lavender and mint growing in our herb garden. Now I feel complete.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Broccoli supreme

When I planted broccoli this summer (see my earlier post) I had no idea that the vegetable was so controversial. But according to an article in The New York Times, How Broccoli Landed on Supreme Court Menu, the healthy green could influence the court's decision on whether President Barack Obama's health care law is constitutional! Who knew?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Eat your broccoli!

Always in search of new veggies to introduce into our urban garden, I added two varieties of broccoli this season. After some research, I went with Piracicaba, developed in Brazil to withstand heat, and Purple Peacock, a kale/broccoli hybrid, purchasing organically grown seedlings from a Union Square Green Market vendor. I planted them just three weeks ago, and to my surprise, we've already gotten a floret from the Piracicaba. The flavor is mild and sweet but also has a nice tang to it. Though small, the floret's beads are big and loose, unlike typical broccoli. I was unsure of whether to pluck it, but I saw the tiniest yellow bud peaking out and didn't want the fruit to go to seed. I've read that once the first floret is picked, new stems will shoot out along the stalk making for plenty of broccoli all season long and well into fall. I have three plants growing in a large round pot, so I'm looking forward to enough broccoli for a real side dish this summer. As for the Peacocks -- four of them are in another pot -- they also produce small heads with loose beads. One of the nice things about that variety, aside from its colorful plummage, is its tasty leaves that are more kale than broccoli-like. I have yet to harvest them as the plants are a ways from floret stage. Still, I'm feeling pretty good about the decision to grow broccoli. If the first taste is my guide, I'm looking forward to an even better crop than expected.
Small but tasty
Ready to steam

Friday, June 8, 2012

How to fertilize tomato plants

Ready for summer! By July this space will look like a jungle!
What a season 2012 is turning out to be! By Memorial Day we had all of our crops in their pots, ready to bask in the sun. The warm spring inspired us to get our seedlings started early. We're already reaping rewards. Our tomato and green pepper plants are sprouting fruit well ahead of their usual patterns, the cucumber vines are looking mighty healthy and the lettuce is going strong. We could be harvesting tomatoes come July. Speaking of tomatoes, we've added Jobe's Fertilizer Spikes to the pots. Buried in the soil, the sticks offer the proper mix of nutrients (a three to one ratio of phosphorous to nitrogen and potassium,) last for six weeks, and help the plants absorb calcium. The point is to avoid the dreaded blossom-end rot, a black, leathery scourge that often shows up on the blossom end of the fruit early in the season and renders it inedible. Another trick is keeping the plants consistently watered. We may try mulching so the soil doesn't dry out in the heat. We've added the spikes to our pepper plants as well. Next challenge: getting rid of the aphids on our eggplants!
Our first pepper
The fertilizer spikes