Monday, August 21, 2017

In Search of the Elusive Perfect Zinnia

While traveling this week, Bill and I decided on impulse to turn and go another way to see where the road would lead us.  We were ready for a new adventure.  We passed a sign which pointed to "Mount Pleasant, Tennessee" and together decided we needed some pleasantries, so we followed the sign.  As we toured the small town of Mount Pleasant, I suddenly saw IT!  BEAUTIFUL PERFECT ZINNIAS!  They were nothing like the spindly ones in the shady area of my garden, but were bright, bold, big healthy flowers.  I gasped, which caused Bill to slam on the brakes (my intention) and I began to ogle and drool.  In my last post Today's Blooms, I was bemoaning the fact that some of my zinnias were diseased and covered with leaf spot.  The zinnias in front of my eyes, were nothing like those I was growing back home.

As he circled the block for the third time, Bill suggested, "It's a business and they are open, why don't you go inside?"

Why hadn't I thought of that?

Breckenridge House was built in 1815.  It served as the home and business of David Breckenridge, a hatter, who made military and dress hats.  It now stands as a museum and antique shop.
As I slowly strolled through the sunny, front flower beds, I was amazed by the stunning, healthy flowers.

Inside I was welcomed by a friendly saleswoman and so I asked, "The zinnias in your front flower beds are huge. What variety are they and how do you keep them disease free?"

She shook her head and replied, "I am sorry, I don't know.  We have a gardener and he is responsible for the landscaping."

I must have appeared disappointed and broken-hearted so she quickly replied, "You are welcome to tour the back garden, take all the pictures you want."

To my surprise, she performed the most hospitable act ever, she offered me a plastic bag so I could collect seeds from any flowers I liked!

You know what I did...of course I toured the gardens, it would be rude not to since she offered.  Plus, I was in search of the reason why my zinnias are struggling and theirs were so magnificent. Besides this was a perfect opportunity that had fallen into my lap to look at more flowers, so, why not? Any flower I see is a flower to enjoy.

The back garden was just as perfect as the front garden.  Slowly, as I contemplated my problem, the answer began to become clear why my zinnias are not as lush.  I know what I am doing wrong.  I DON'T HAVE A GARDENER!  I NEED TO HIRE SOMEONE TO WAIT ON ME HAND AND FOOT!  Yep, I need a gardener, a full-time landscaper since we also have a vegetable garden.  Oh, and maybe on rainy days when he could not work outside, he could be my chauffeur, or maybe a butler doubling as a maid and clean the house, do laundry, wash dishes, and what about washing windows...???  This idea was getting better and better.  I suddenly realized I needed help, every kind of help possible...wait, is there nothing in my life under control???  Probably not.  

This required a few days of deep thought and then it hit me, it would be simpler, wiser and cheaper to plant my zinnias in full sun next year and avoid all the problems.  A gardener would be easier, but when have I ever done what is easiest?

Lastly, to keep peace in the family since my blog is dedicated to my Mom (Hi Mom!), I must include a picture of Scooter or she will complain.  So for you Mom, here is Scooter. 

Scooter hiding behind a chair when someone knocked on the door.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Today's Blooms, August 15, 2017

Morning Glory at sunrise
Today I am linking up with Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day to celebrate with gardeners around the world and will share the blooms in my zone 6b/7a southern middle Tennessee, USA, garden.

Intense Purple Amaranth

Thank you Reese for giving me this dahlia.
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia

A daylily rebloomed!!!
Mexican Sunflower
An unknown volunteer I must research.
A sunflower planted by a bird.

 Each year I grow zinnias and when the hot, sultry miserable dog days of summer arrive, some will be covered with powdery mildew and leaf spot, others will be fine.   I find this a mystery.

I would like to give a better understanding of this situation.  Below is the path from the driveway to my flower garden.  When we bought this house years ago, I started planting in the far back corner by the field fence and began moving forward.  Every year I dig up a little bit more.  The area to the right did not get planted this Spring so I decided to save it and use it as my Winter vegetable garden.  I will start planting it this week if the weather allows.

Last year I scattered a few zinnias around to add color between the perennials and this year volunteers appeared all over the area; I let them grow.  The few volunteers on the right side of the path are doing great; however, the ones on the left side are having problems.  I am showing the path to make it clear how close the beds are from each other.

These are the zinnias on the right side of the path where everything is doing fine.

This is the area on the left side of the path where most of the plants are covered in leaf spots and powdery mildew. 

Leaf spot and powdery mildew are both caused by warm, humid weather, overhead watering, shade and crowding.   I have found spraying a mixture of 32 oz water, 1 teaspoon Joy dishwashing liquid and 1 teaspoon of baking soda will slow the diseases. It won't cure them, but will slow them down.

I have gone crazy trying to understand why some plants are fine and why others only a few feet away are suffering.  It is the same soil, weather, seeds and location.

This week I finally realized the difference. I arose at sunrise to work in the garden (it is too hot to work later in the day) and realized as the sun rises, it hits the healthy plants about two hours earlier. Due to the tree line to the east of the flower bed, the healthy plants on the right side of the path dry earlier whilst the others remain covered in dew longer.  To me it was amazing that only two hours of sunlight could make such a difference. Mystery solved; however, I am still seeking answers to cure these diseases and would love advice. 

Now is the time of year we call the dog days of summer, between July and the middle of September when the oppressive hot, sultry weather (Northern Hemisphere, southern middle Tennessee, USA, zone 6b/7a) causes a feeling of laziness.  So to celebrate this miserable time of the year, I asked Scooter, our local canine celebrity to pose for a picture in front of my one and only zinnia plant in the vegetable garden.

Scooter said, "This is an ugly plant.  Why do you want me to pose with it?" 

"It is not ugly but perfect because it is in full sun all day long (no diseases) and I want to show it off.  Also, you are the honorable, chosen poster child representing the dog days of summer."  I cajoled. 

"But Mom, it is too hot and oppressive out here in this bright sunlight.  I can't keep my eyes sleepy...must lay down...."

"Scooter, SCOOTER! I will give you a  hot dog if you can stay awake for one second." I bribed.

"Deal." said Scooter.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why is Bucky in My Flowers?

"BUCKY! BUCKY!" I yelled as loud as I could.  "I see you eating my flowers!"

"Huh?" Mumbled a startled Bucky.  "Did someone call my name?"

"Oh, it's you, the lady from the house." Bucky replied.

"Does your Mom know you have sneaked over the fence and are eating my flowers?  She is busy with your newborn little sister and has not been able to keep an eye on you or your twin brother.  I realize you have grown a wonderful new 7 point rack since I caught you in my vegetable garden back in June and you want to show it off, but you should obey your Mom.  Do I need to call her and tell her how you been acting?" I threatened. 

"Uh, oh."  He paused and thought for a moment then said, "If you don't say anything, I promise to behave." 

I nodded and watched as he effortlessly leapt over my fence.

"Shhhh." Whispered Bucky to his brother.  "The lady from the house is looking at us.  Don't tell Mom what I said."  

"Don't tell me what?" Asked Mama Doe

"Oh, nothing."  Said Bucky.  "Nothing at all."

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Birth Announcement

A few weeks ago I shared about the irritating expectant mother who has caused so many problems.  Early one morning this past week I peeped into the nest which she had inconsiderately built in my garden shed, and noticed a bleary eye surrounded by fuzzy down looking back at me.  No one moved and I quietly slipped away.

A few days later I checked again, this time two angry beady eyes glared back at me.  He/She did not like me or the camera and slid down deeper into the nest.  He would not come out to pose for my photo-op and avoided me every time I returned.  He is going to be irritating just like his mother.

As I continued to try to get pictures, they would quickly disappear into the nest.  I knew it was just a matter of time before the home would be outgrown because Mom was feeding them every worm she could find.

Tonight it happened, I caught all four of them getting some fresh air before the sun went down.  The one second from the left who is glaring at the camera and is spread out taking up most of the room, he is going to be a problem.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

July's Garden (2017)

The garden is in full production this month.  Everything is ripening at once and there seems no time to do anything but process food.  That is not a complaint.  Every picture of the garden this month will show the door of the shed wide open because of the irritating expectant mother who lives inside.  That is a complaint.

The picture below is of the side of the garden closest to the field.  First is the okra plants but one long row is too much for us so I divided them into groups of about three plants.  I put Zipper peas between the groups so they can run up the okra plants.  Their vines can get six feet long.

In front of the okra is a row of tiny White Rice beans which will not get tall and only take up a small space.  The next two rows are Henderson bush Lima beans with a new, unknown field pea growing in the last half of one row. We call them Karen's peas after the farmer friend who gave them to Reese.

I enjoy fresh beans because they do not taste anything like dried beans or canned beans from the store.  The way I explain it is that the flavor is like the difference in a store-bought or canned tomato and a fresh one just picked from the garden.  Fresh beans, to me, have a delicious flavor, so good that I am willing to do the work to get them.

Scooter graciously agreed to sit in the middle of everything to show the different sizes of the plants.  The Zipper peas are in the top of the picture with the short White Rice beans in front of them.  The White Rice beans are immediately above Scooter's back in the picture.  To the right (Scooter's left paw side) is Karen's peas.  To the left in the picture is the Henderson Lima beans.

This view is of the two rows of Henderson Lima beans and the empty area to the right is where the hoop house was during the winter.   This spot is now an odd assortment of herbs, lettuce, cabbage and whatever needed to be plopped down.  Straight back close to the woods will be this year's winter garden area.  

The holes in the leaves of the Henderson Lima beans are caused by Japanese Beetles and June bugs. They don't bother the beans so I don't spray.  It appears they do not have many pods.  It is an illusion.  If the plant is flipped over, the pods are on the underside.  It is loaded with many beans.

Here they are after being shelled. The White Rice beans are not ready yet.  I planted them late when something else did not germinate in that spot.

I grow the Zipper peas for my son Dustin because beans give him heartburn but for some reason, Zipper peas do not bother him.  They are all saved for him.  

Henderson Lima
Karen's Peas
Zipper Peas
I love Lima beans and have grown every kind I have ever seen.  This year we only planted Henderson Bush but I would like to show some of the others.

Below on the left is Henderson Lima with a new pod above and a dried pod underneath showing how much they shrink when they dry.  Next is my favorite, Peruvian Lima which I found at Whole Foods Grocery in their bulk bin years ago.  I tried planting them and was surprised to find some of the seeds were bush (two feet tall) and others had vines which grew at least 25 feet tall.  When they are fresh, they are HUGE!! One bean is almost all you can fit in your mouth at once.  They are slow-growing so I usually don't get many.

Calico, Black, Violetta and Jackson Wonder are all planted together on my arches because I love the variety and surprise when I open a pod.  Each one will be a different color.  They may have crossed, but I don't care.

At the far right is the tiny White Rice beans which I cook with rice and use as bean sprouts.

   The area closest to the yard has two rows of peanuts on the left, then tomatoes going up the poles and sweet      potatoes on the far right.
A peanut plant has blooming yellow flowers which will fall down and form stems called "pegs".  They grow into the soil and form the peanut underground.  It is best to hoe underneath right when it blooms so the ground will be loose so the pegs can penetrate.  But other than that, they are no work until late Fall.  Since my ground is hard clay, I wait until after a good rain when it is easy to carefully pull them up as the peanuts hang off the underside.  Wash off the mud, leave them out in the sunshine to dry, then pull the peanuts off, that is all the work needed.

I am growing two types: a large Valencia because they are easy to shell and a black kind because they have the best flavor.  We store them in the basement where they easily keep all year-long.  We like them roasted with a little butter and salt.

Pegs dropping down.
Pegs in the ground.

The tomatoes are rapidly growing up the stakes but the sweet potatoes will soon overtake the lower part of the tomatoes.  It won't matter since the tomatoes grow up and the sweet potatoes spread out along the ground.  The picture on the right below is a close-up of the vines. They will root where they touch the ground and sweet potatoes will grow underground in those spots. When they reach the yard, Bill will run over them with the riding mower to keep them contained.  Digging them up in an area that has not been plowed is difficult.  We will wait until around the first frost to harvest them.  It will be a big job.

Some of the other plants growing in the garden are one bell pepper and one chili pepper plant. We don't eat many peppers so one plant of each will be plenty.  The chili peppers will be dried, ground to powder and used as chili seasoning.  The cucumbers have slowed down, I have replanted a few, but need to plant more again.

This is a White Cherry tomato plant intertwined with Malabar spinach because both were volunteers which sprouted close together.  I am the only one who likes Malabar Spinach in salads since it is slimy like okra.  The cherry tomatoes are a sweet treat when I pass by in the garden.  They never make it in the house.

Malabar Spinach.
White Cherry Tomato with Malabar Spinach.
In the middle of the row of kale is an Intense Purple amaranth which is also a volunteer.  They are notorious for dropping seeds all over the garden so I only allow one to grow.  Its small leaves are a colorful addition to a fresh salads.  It has tiny, black seeds which I grind with other grains to make flour.  The blooms will be large beautiful plumes which look stunning in floral arrangements, except they drop seeds everywhere.  The larger leaves can be cooked as greens but they turn an unappetizing brown color so I don't use them.

Intense Purple Amaranth
This crazy looking thing is a collard plant.  Seriously.  It went to seed, I never got out to collect them and now little collard plants are coming up everywhere.  I suppose this area will once again be my winter collard garden. I know, I should have moved it to another area, but, well, this is easier.

Collards self seeding.
The strawberry plants in the middle of the garden have gone dormant from the heat.  They look rough, only have a few berries which are not sweet.  It is time for them to be cut back and mulched so they can begin their Fall growth.  When the weather cools, they will begin producing again and the berries will become sweet.  

I grew a watermelon! I grew a watermelon!  However, knowing when to pick it at the right time is not easy for me.  I watched it closely and when I realized it was beginning to rot, I immediately harvested it.  Like I said, harvesting watermelons at peak ripeness is a skill I haven't acquired.

After cutting it open, it was delicious, but a bit seedy.

Remember my amazing compost pile in last month's post?  Here it is again!  I am so proud.  It has grown out of control, through the fence and out into the field.

When we had the field cut three weeks ago, the man who bushhogged the field kindly avoided the squash plant.  This is the back side of the fence where Bill is weed eating a path for me so I can harvest the wayward squash.

I am standing in the field with the garden to my left.

I am in the field with the garden to my right.
This is the gate into the field.  Originally it was a cattle chute but we put this piece of fence over the opening to keep Scooter from getting into the field.  He was NOT allowed out with us while we were working because we do not want him to realize this is an opening.  Scooter is not trustworthy around an open gate.  However, he did sneak into the bedroom then jump on the bed so he could look out the window and see us.  He barked and whined because he was mad at being left alone.

Unimpressive field gate.
Why go to so much effort to harvest some squash?  Because I realized they are Tahitian Butternut Squash, cucurbita moschata! It is worth Bill's hard work in the blistering hot sun to make it possible for me to get to them. These are some of the ones we found after we were able to get the vines cleared away.  I think it is only one plant.  No joke.  It is an aggressive producer and can rival a zucchini in its growth speed.  Squash vine borers usually can't kill it for a couple of reasons. Cucurbita moschata squash have vines which harden quickly which discourages borers from attacking.  The vine grows rapidly and roots as it spreads along the ground so that even if borers get part of the plant, there are other areas that will continue to survive.

Below I have cut up a large and a small squash to show the difference.  The flesh is white when small then turns butternut orange as it matures.  Even at the large size below, the skin is still soft enough for your fingernail to pierce it.

I use it as follows:
Small to Medium - blended in smoothies, boiled, sauteed, or anyway you would use yellow squash.
Large but still green as in the picture below - when the skin begins to become tough, sliced, battered and fried.
Huge and orange - not pictured.  If you leave it on the vine to mature, they turn into orange butternut squash, the flavor changes and becomes very sweet.  We had a blind taste test one Thanksgiving and my family voted them sweeter than Waltham butternut squash.
Seeds - are delicious toasted with a bit of olive oil and salt.
Storage - They can be dehydrated, frozen and canned.  Plus after maturing and curing, they will store for over one year.  I know, I had some last that long.  It was the year I planted six in the garden.  Big mistake.  I didn't think we would ever get them all eaten.

Tahitian Butternut Squash
Now for my big garden fail.  Remember the picture of my wonderful yellow squash from last month's (June) post?

This is how it looked two weeks later after the June post when the squash vine borer had destroyed it.  The picture on the right is the vine after it had been eaten.  When I put the poison on the stem in last's month post, the borer was already inside so it did not kill it.  I pulled the stem apart, found the borer, then SMASHED IT WITH MY FOOT!  My revenge for what it did to my yellow squash plant.

No post is complete unless I share about Scooter.  He is not happy.  He has been having a rough time and wished to express his frustrations to his fans.

"I am not happy!  It is irritating being ignored while Mom works in the kitchen canning all day and while everyone does something secret without me by the compost pile.  I am also being forced to share my special-on-guard-duty-protecting-the-pack spot with Lima beans." Complained Scooter.  "I hate Lima beans!"

"There are Lima Beans everywhere, on the floor, in the chairs, in my food bowl; I hate Lima Beans.  Mom can't do anything without dropping food and she expects me to keep the floor clean.  I am not going to lick up Lima Beans!"  Fussed Scooter.  "I wish Mom would can chicken or hamburgers or HOT DOGS!  Why can't Mom can hot dogs?  The only clean spot where I can watch for falling hot dogs, is under the rocking chair."

It was embarrassing, but I had to admit Scooter was right.  When canning I make a big mess, so much that I said to Bill, "This kitchen is such a mess I am going to take a picture, put it on my blog, so everyone can see this disaster."  I usually wait until canning season is over in the Fall to clean up.

Bill didn't say a word, he got up, loaded the dishwasher, wiped down the counters then swept the floor.  Was he embarrassed for the world to see my kitchen, or afraid of getting food poison or does he really love me? Whatever the reason, he cleaned my kitchen!  Here is a picture of something no one has ever seen before, my clean kitchen during harvest season!

Yep, this is really my kitchen.  The laptop is on the table because I like to watch Youtube videos while cutting up squash, shelling beans and keeping an eye on the canner.

This is the pile of produce which won't fit in the refrigerator on the other side of the room waiting for my attention.

It was an exciting once in a lifetime event.  Now for the truth.  This is what the harvest season is really like.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...