Archive for April, 2011

Is this blight?

Okay, experienced gardeners out there – my green beans have been experiencing some yellowing, browning, and curling leaves. The limas are mostly okay, but this morning I noticed they’re just starting to have issues too. I think it may be blight. It could also be insect damage or simply succumbing to the heat and drought, or it could easily be a lack of some important nutrient (cause let’s face it – this is Florida dirt). I welcome feedback from anyone with a bit of knowledge of this stuff.

A large section of the bed

Close up of some leaves showing typical damage.

Several of the beans have small darkish spots like this one, but no further damage (except where insects have eaten them)

Okay, other details: it’s getting up to the low to mid 90’s daily, and has only rained four or fives times all month. I was limiting my watering to the twice a week that I’m technically allowed, but they seemed to do MUCH worse and I have increased watering a bit to help them. I’m seeing more healthy green growth at the tops of the plants since I increased the watering, but the lower leaves still look… burnt. I don’t pick beans or rummage in the beds when the plants are wet. In terms of insects, the only harmful insects I’ve seen around them are the lubber grasshoppers. But, there could be other insects that I haven’t spotted or identified.

Any ideas?

Update: more research suggests a possibility

I’ve been scouring the web for photos of bean diseases and damage. This site has photos of bean plants with various nutrient deficiencies; the photos of potassium deficiency look a LOT like the damage I’m seeing – with some yellowing on the insides of the leaves, but mostly browning at the tips and margins of the leaves.

I’d like to know for sure. I sort of hate to treat for the wrong issue. Logically, a deficiency would fit the symptoms a bit better – because more water has improved, rather than worsened the situation. With blight, running the sprinklers can spread spores. For a deficiency, more water may be allowing the plants to get a bit more of the scarce nutrients in our soil. Maybe?


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This morning’s harvest

Spaghetti squash and zucchini

I had intended to leave this spaghetti squash on the vine a few days longer to ripen more fully, but when I went to check the garden this morning I discovered this:

Do I have a new garden nemesis?

Something bored a little hole in my beautiful squash last night. All around the hole were little yellowish beads that may have been eggs or may have been bits of the strands of flesh kicked out by whatever did this. I carefully removed them all, lest something nasty hatch near my other squashes, and I went ahead and cut this guy off the vine today so we can enjoy what’s there before it’s eaten from the inside out.

I’m thinking zucchini for me for lunch, stir-fried lightly with some organic short grain brown rice from Chuck’s (seriously the best rice I’ve had in my life), and then cooking up the spaghetti squash for dinner with some leftover homemade pasta sauce we have in the fridge.

Aside from this, things are looking good in the garden. Limas have a few largish pods on them; I am thinking we may harvest our first servings of lima beans in about a week. Green beans are doing well, though they have some yellow leaves around the bottoms of all the plants. I don’t know if that’s the normal growth pattern for them, or if this miserable heat is doing them in (it’s reaching the low to mid 90’s daily now). I found one tomato worm on one of my tomato plants and removed it. I’ve been checking things daily and I am hopeful that my vigilance will spare me any major losses despite the lack of pesticides.

In closing, my daughter found this little baby grapefruit the tree dropped (it dropped several, but has LOADS more on the tree, growing steadily), and she very much wanted me to take a picture of it for you. I love her excited, childlike perspective!

Yes, she's harvesting in pj's again!

UPDATE: I want this for lunch every day!

Less than an hour after harvest. YUM.

Stir fried zucchini. I put just enough canola oil in my cast iron skillet to coat the bottom, then threw in some sliced onion and cooked for about 2 minutes. Then I added the sliced zucchini and stir fried for maybe 2-3 minutes longer, seasoning with fresh cracked pepper. I added leftover brown rice, a pat of butter, and a good splash of soy sauce, and continued to cook until the rice was heated through. Put it in a bowl and finished with a generous squirt of Sriracha (rooster sauce) – because Sriracha is bottled awesome. Delicious!

Update #2: I found the culprit

Found this guy in the spaghetti squash when I opened it up. I think it’s a pickleworm. I removed him and the bits he’d chewed through before cooking up the rest of the squash for us.

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Flowers for my honeybees

We have had a steady string of honeybees coming to visit our garden since day 1, and I am delighted to see them out in full force. Bees are extremely important for food production; they pollinate a remarkable portion of the food crops that feed us human folk. Their rapid and startling demise, the colony collapse disorder, is concerning. It’s been a happy comfort to me to see such a thriving population of honeybees in my own backyard. And I have read that one thing we can all do to help, is to keep a variety of bee-friendly plants in our gardens (grown without toxic pesticides).

So in addition to my citrus trees, my loquat, my peach tree, my herbs, and my assorted vegetable plants, I am keeping a healthy supply of “weeds” around. Florida native wildflowers that have volunteered themselves in my garden, and that the bees seem to love.

First up, Spanish Needle. This cheerful wildflower was one of my favorites as a child, and is one of my Girly’s favorites too. It flowers prolifically with little 5 petaled flowers that guarantee you’ll end on “he loves me.” After it blooms, it produces seeds that stick to your clothes like crazy, so it can be mildly annoying; but the stickers won’t pierce skin so there’s no harm done. It enjoys full sun to part shade, is drought tolerant, and will self seed abundantly. Bees adore them. Butterflies adore them. My daughter adores them. Code Enforcement doesn’t adore them overgrown all over my front lawn, but I’m letting them run wild in the back.

Spanish Needle - a Florida wildflower the bees *adore*

I think this little guy is a ground bee. Ive seen at least four distinct types of bees in our garden, as well as wasps.

Pretty for a "weed," dont you think?

Then we have spiderwort. This was another one of my favorites as a child! We would pick them after church (they grew all around the church grounds), always forgetting how much sticky sap oozed from their hollow stems. I love the color of the blooms and I’m happy to let them grow wherever they spring up!

Honeybee on spiderwort.

Another honeybee on the same plant.

Buzz, buzz. 🙂

Then we have porterweed. I was delighted to see some of these volunteer in the middle of our front yard, and I plan to carefully transplant them to spots where they won’t get mowed down. Porterweed is another Florida native that’s drought tolerant and is both a butterfly and bee attractor. This one is quite small, but they grow to about 3 feet high when they’re full sized, and they’re perennials (though they die back after a freeze).

Coming soon for my buzzing little workers, I’ll be planting bee balm and a few more bee friendly herbs. My garden is quickly becoming a honeybee’s paradise, and they are more than repaying me with the constant pollinating of my various vegetables!

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Updates: baby ‘maters and fresh cut dinner

Hello all! For your pleasure here’s a garden update full of badly taken photographs. I waited a few minutes too late and there wasn’t enough light to take them without the flash – so now instead they’re all overblown and pale. Enjoy!

Below, my green beans and limas are both doing well. The green beans have been producing prolifically – we’ve picked over 2 lbs of beans in the past couple of weeks! The limas are covered in little babies and I’m expecting to begin harvesting them in a few weeks time. In the foreground of this shot, our tomato plants are growing (I plan to stake them this coming weekend) and the marigolds I planted in between are full and healthy. So far, they’re doing the trick too – no nasty critters on the tomatoes, aside from the lubbers I battle daily.

Beans, tomatoes, and marigolds

And, happy, happy day: I have my first couple of baby tomatoes. Yay!

The squash bed is coming along beautifully on the whole. The spaghetti squash vines are running all over, and the zucchini and our volunteer plants are thriving. The cantaloupes remain in the same condition they’ve been in for a month now. I’m not expecting them to do much of anything at this point, and I’ll probably reclaim that space for okra in a few weeks.

The spaghetti squash vines have several squashes growing; this one is the furthest along.

Here’s one of the zucchini plants, mere moments before I cut this beauty off to bring inside for dinner. By way of explanation: I read on a gardening forum that if you elevate squash off the ground somehow, even just placing a plastic lid under them, it can help prevent fungal problems from beginning. Since we have plenty of fungi in this hot, humid state of ours, I figured I’d give it a shot.

And here it is after harvesting, with a friend. (Aaaaah! Flash attack! Who knew my arms could look even paler!)

These were delicious. Simply awesome. They’re the “raven” hybrid from Park Seeds, which I picked because they claimed to be well suited to hot weather. They also claim to produce later in the season. I certainly hope so: I’ll be delighted to continue eating these. (Much more flavorful than zukes from Publix).

Really, take a moment to marvel with me. This is my first year veggie gardening, and it continues to surprise and delight me that it *works.* Plant seeds, water them, pamper them, and FOOD grows! Ha! This is all organic too. That’s the produce of horse manure and TLC right there, folks. 🙂

Last pic of the evening: our gardenia bush has begun blooming. First blossoms opened on Easter Sunday, which seems beautifully fitting. The bush is simply *covered* in buds so I am looking forward to many more flowers to come.

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Green Beans!

Veggie picking at dawn has two perks: cool temperatures, and wearing your pajamas.

We picked some green beans from the garden this morning, which will go into our lunch/dinner today. It was our third time picking beans, and by far the biggest haul: this is a full pound of beans, and it’s what has ripened in just two days since I last harvested! There’s plenty more where these came from, too, with so many more immature beans still on the plants. I’m certain we’ll be eating fresh green beans daily for some time to come.

Girly says she wants to eat some of them with ketchup.

I have been looking up recipes to get new and tasty ideas for ways to use all these beans. In the case of green beans, I need the help: they are one of the veggies that was sort of ruined for me in childhood. I hated them for years. But fresh beans from the garden, cooked tender-crisp and seasoned nicely are not remotely similar to the way they were served up by my grandma (frozen beans, boiled in tap water with margarine until they’d turned rather grey and unspeakably bitter and mushy). Instead, these are a thing of beauty, and I’m learning to like them.

Today I’ll make this recipe with green beans in place of the snow peas (which one reviewer said worked great): Should be delicious!

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Lubber Grasshoppers: zombies of the garden

There are a few things you can count on in Florida: snowbirds in the winter, thunderstorms in the summer, and, all year long, bugs that will haunt your dreams.

What palmetto bugs are to the average cockroach, lubbers are to the sprightly green grasshoppers I’m told folks have up North.

I dislike lubbers.

Now let’s get one thing clear – I’m pretty fair to most of the bugs in my garden. I don’t spray pesticides. I actively encourage my honeybees and other pollinators. I take care not to disturb the spiders who spin their webs on my trellises. Heck, I even leave palmetto bugs alone if I find them in the great outdoors (in my house is another matter). But lubbers? Lubbers. Must. Die.

It’s not just because they are big and gross looking, with a face only a mother could love and the eery habit of hopping in directions other than the way they’re facing: it’s also because they eat their body weight daily. Every single day. Every single one of them. From they day they hatch until they’ve mated, laid a thousand eggs, and died.

Or until a bird gets them.

Or until I get them.

They actually start out kind of cute – if you find one by itself. They’re small and black with an orange or yellow stripe, with antennae that are proportionate and faces that you can’t see clearly. Usually however they congregate in big creepy shifting masses. But this is to your advantage. You can kill them more efficiently that way. In the spring time, when you happen across a few dozen or couple hundred or so baby lubbers, you must drop what you are doing and kill them. Immediately. It doesn’t matter what you were doing, it doesn’t matter that you’d rather do something else than kill lubbers, and at this stage it doesn’t even matter what shoes you are wearing: it will never be easier than this. Stomp them. Stomp the living daylights out of them. Annihilate them.

When they’re a bit bigger it’s harder. You have to fight your own revulsion, because once they’re bigger they make an audible crunch as you squelch them underfoot, and they… have guts. So many guts for such little bugs. It’s stomach turning. They use this to their advantage. In your moment of weakness, as you hesitate, dreading the crunch and ooze, they hop away. Not necessarily in the direction they were facing. Now you must hunt them down again. If you’re lucky, and you find them a second time, you must hold your breath and resist the lurching in your stomach and do it quickly. Because it’s still easier now.

When they are full grown, they look like something out of a bad horror movie. Part insect, part alien, part demon possessed garden zombie, all fangs and antennae. Yellow and greenish brown and orange, slightly shiny, with visible, ugly, creased faces and constantly moving mouth parts. Usually, their wings grow too short to fly. But not too short to raise them and ruffle them audibly, then hop away on their legs in the moment gained while you dropped your pruning sheers to cover your head with your arms. Or, if the wing flutter doesn’t work, they’ll hiss and even spit. Worse still, when they are full grown, you cannot stomp on them. Or, rather, you can, and as soon as your entire body weight is lifted they’ll merrily hop away. My theory is that lubbers equip themselves with Kevlar as a sort of rite of passage into adulthood. They can no longer be crushed by anything as feeble and soft bodied as you.

I have, in my decades living in Florida, learned two and only two ways to kill adult lubbers in the garden: foaming wasp spray which can stick to them long enough to kill them (a no-no in my pesticide-free garden), and pruning sheers. One lubber plus pruning sheers equals two lubber halves, each of which can reasonably be expected to continue twitching for thirty minutes or so.

Haunt. Your. Dreams.

If I weren’t growing things I care about, I’d run the other way rather than deal with them. But since I am, and since they can do a LOT of damage in a short amount of time, I put on my game face and slaughter them as bravely as I can.

Every once in a while I discover one in the middle of the road while I’m driving. I’m glad to swerve slightly to crush it under my car, knowing that it’s weighty enough to destroy the creepy little monster without me having to hear the crunch or watch the twitching legs and oozing guts. I feel a small victory is mine in those moments, and I am satisfied to know there’s one less demon bug to worry about.

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See this? This is soooooooo good and delicious! I’ve been enjoying loquats straight off our tree for a few weeks now. We’re winding down to the last few fruits. *sigh* Wish there were more.

Loquats are a subtropical fruit that can range from acid to subacid to sweet. The variety we have in our yard is sort of in the middle, flavor wise, and reminds me of homemade lemonade. There’s that distinctive citrus-y tartness but a brightly sweet overtone as well. The flesh is sort of halfway between a peach and an apple, if you can picture that – slightly crisp but softer than an apple, and extremely juicy.

Our tree is fairly small but it was productive. When we’re completely finished harvesting, I’ll prune it heavily and fertilize it, and hopefully next year’s harvest will be even better!

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