Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mystery Solved - Velvetleaf

About a month ago, I was babying a plant that I thought was a Hale's Best Jumbo cantaloupe plant.  Not only that, I thought it was a bush-variety of this cantaloupe.  Now I know that I was totally and utterly wrong.  I blame everything on my first-year gardener's ignorance and inexperience.

Then this plant started flowering and setting seed pods and my more experienced readers confirmed that not only was this not a cantaloupe plant, it was most likely a weed of some sort.  Lou Murray, Mr. H. and Anonymous commented here and here that it looked like something in the Indian Mallow family.

Well, I let the plant live out its life and I'm now positive that what I accidentally grew was Velvetleaf in the Mallow family.  I found a few websites that provided lots of information about Velvetleaf.

The scariest piece of information that I learned about Velvetleaf, which is actually a pretty seriously invasive weed, is that its seeds can remain viable in soil for more than 50 years.  FIFTY YEARS!

And I grew it in a five-gallon bucket. With a stake for support.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Icky Garden Pests: Hornworms, Cabbage worms and Aphids

I have been "lucky" enough to spot some pests in my garden during the last few weeks while I've been making my weekly rounds with my camera. 

Check out this puppy - I mean, hornworm.  I've seen many pictures of them on the internet, but that still didn't prepare me for a up close and personal encounter.  I initially thought that this was a tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) but I learned from my pest research that this was actually a closely related tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta).  Tobacco hornworms have seven diagonal white lines on each side with a slightly curved red horn on their rear ends (exactly like in my picture above!).  Tomato hornworms have eight V-shaped marks on each side with a straighter black horn.  Both tomato and tobacco hornworms feed on various Solanum species, which was good to know, since I'm definitely not growing any tobacco in my garden.

This must have been my lucky day, because I also saw another less fortunate tobacco hornworm infested with parasitic wasp eggs on its back.  I know this is supposedly to be natural and all, but ugh, I have to admit, I was thoroughly, completely grossed out while taking these pictures.

On to slightly less disgusting, but nonetheless evil pests in my garden.  Here we have two cabbage worms feasting on my radish leaves.  A few weeks ago, I posted some pictures of damaged seedlings in my fall garden.  Many of my regular readers suggested slug damage.  That may still be true, but I have yet to see any slugs in my garden.  What I have seen lots of are these cabbage worms.  They are everywhere, and they eat the leaves of radishes, kale, all kinds of asian greens and even chards.  I could (maybe) deal with them nibbling a bit here and there.  But left unchecked, many of my seedlings get stripped bare of their foliage and just die.

Here's a picture of another cabbage worm.  They blend in really well with the leaves, don't they?  I must have squished dozens of them in my garden just last weekend. But they keep popping up everywhere and I just can't keep up. 

Here we have an aphid infestation on the underside of a radish leaf.  The aphids are out in full force all over the same crops that the cabbage worms seem to love.  I tried to spray them with soapy water and squish what I could, but as you can see, they way outnumber me.

Cutworm Damage to Sugar Snap Pea Seedlings

As I work out of state during the week, I sometimes text Keith to get current status reports on our garden vegetables.

"Hey, how are the peas doing?"

"Um... Oh, did I tell you that we have peppers growing in the grow box now?"

"Oh No.  What's wrong with the peas?"

"We have lots of new baby peppers!  They look really good!"


"They don't look so good."

I must have bad pea karma, because I just can't seem to grow them in my Indiana garden.  Due to my first-year gardening inexperience, sugar snap peas were planted too late this spring (mid-May), and what few seedlings that tried to survive either got munched on by wild rabbits or got fried crispy brown by the hot weather.  On the other hand, the same peas that I planted in my mom's garden just thrived in the cool coastal California weather this summer and gave my mom pound after pound of fresh and sweet sugar snap peas.

As we slowly transitioned from summer to fall, I was determined to try my hand at pea-growing once again.  I direct sowed them in a shadier part of the herb garden in early August.  All the peas germinated within a week.  I even called them my butt peas.  Everything seemed to be going really well.

 My precious Butt Pea seedlings towards the end of August

Then a few weeks ago, I discovered that more than half of the seedlings had fallen over, like someone had taken a pair of scissors and went snip snip around the base of the seedlings.  There were also a few seedlings that were cut off at the bottom, but looked like they were still up because their tendrils were holding hands with other seedlings. These were literally floating in mid-air, like ghost peas!

Even though I haven't personally seen any cutworms yet, I knew from my pest research that they were the culprit here.  Those darn cutworms!  I tried to find them by digging around the fallen seedlings, but I couldn't find any.  I protected the remaining seedlings by pulling cardboard cylinders - empty paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls cut about 2-3 inches tall - over them.  I have no pictures from this day, because I was too mad to play photographer.

I really hoped that the remaining pea seedlings would survive, but a few more of them just dried up brown from the bottom without any apparent physical damage to the stems. Not sure what caused that.

 Some remaining pea seedlings died this slow browning death

We still have a few pea seedlings that survived this ordeal and are trying to set flowers, but the pea patch is much more sparse than I had planned and I just don't have a lot of hope left for the remaining few pea vines.  The level-headed side of me thinks, oh well, I'll just have to try again next year.

But what I really want to say is: WAHHHH, I WANT MY PEAS THIS YEAR!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Overwintering Peppers Indoors - Day One

I first entertained the idea of overwintering peppers about a month ago.  This past weekend, I decided to pull the trigger and go for it.  First, we took the two cayenne pepper plants in the five-gallon bucket and tipped the whole thing upside-down.  While Keith was holding the plants and the top of the soil (which was now at the bottom) in his hands, I lopped off about a third of the roots from the bottom of the soil (which was now at the top) and separated the smaller pepper plant from the larger one.  The larger plant got transplanted into a new pot to be brought inside for the winter.

Here is the pepper plant in its new pot and new indoor space for the winter.  I pulled off all the damaged leaves from the bottom, so the plant looks a bit bare at the moment.  That is a south-facing window behind the pepper plant, so I hope the plant can get enough sunlight to survive the winter indoors.  I'm definitely not expecting the plant to thrive indoors - I'm willing to settle for any level of "alive"! 

Here's a close-up of the pepper plant.  As you can see, this plant still has lots of green cayenne peppers.  If they ever turn red, this pepper plant is going to look really pretty!  Well, it already looks like a pretty houseplant in the living room, and Keith and I are very happy to have some greenery in the house.  But with some red peppers, I'm sure it will look even prettier.

I'm really curious to see how this will work out.  I'll be providing regular update during this winter for those of you who may be curious.

Linked to: Tuesday Garden Party

Monday, September 27, 2010

9/27/10 Harvest - First Cantaloupe

Lupe the Cantaloupe has finally arrived in time for this week's Harvest Monday!  In case you haven't read my previous cantaloupe posts, Lupe is the first melon from the first melon plant that I grew from a seed from a random supermarket cantaloupe.  It's been exactly three months since I sowed this seed outside, and Lupe was finally ready to be harvested this weekend.  She weighed in at just over 2 lbs, so she was fairly small for a cantaloupe, but Keith and I were nonetheless really excited about our first successful melon harvest.

Even though this melon smelled like a perfectly ripe melon on the outside (what a difference a week makes), I was still a bit anxious as I cut it in half.  What if it doesn't look right?  As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about because this was one ripe melon!  It may have been even a day or two overripe, but it was still very sweet, juicy and overall delicious.

Since the weather has been cooling down and the night time lows are more consistently falling down to the 40s, I'm not holding out much hope that we'll be able to harvest many more Jelly Bean tomatoes.  It's a little sad to see all those flower clusters and half-sized tomatoes that won't have time to grow to their full potential this year, but I keep reminding myself that these plants were started very late in the season (seeds were sown in early July) for experimental purposes, and any harvestable tomato is just a blessing.

I harvested all the ripe ones plus all the others that showed any hint of changing color.  Hopefully these green ones will ripen indoors.  There are still many more smaller green ones on the plants.  I'll let them go another week and see if I can get any more ripe or semi-ripe ones next week.  

I've noticed that these Jelly Bean tomatoes come in all different sizes (not sure if they are designed that way, or if the smaller fruits were just too stressed), with the smallest ones just a smidgen bigger than the size of real jelly beans.  As I mentioned last week, these tomatoes seem to be a bit on the thick-skinned side, but they are still very sweet and delicious.

I also harvested a few more cayenne peppers from our outdoor pepper plants whose days are probably numbered at this point.

These cayenne peppers just don't show any signs of turning red, but I'm going to just let them be and see if they will ripen and turn red indoors like tomatoes.  Otherwise, we can use them green, since these peppers pack plenty of heat as is.

Keith and I spent all weekend doing hard labor expanding our vegetable garden for next year.  This is a pretty big project for us and will require several more sweaty weekends, but I'm really looking forward to having more and better garden space next year to grow more of our own food.  Stay tuned for our drawings and designs for the new garden!  I'll post them later this week or next, as soon as I figure out how to convert my design documents to a picture format.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

I've been searching the internet high and low for good apple recipes since Keith and I went apple picking two weeks ago.  So far, I have baked an apple tart and made cinnamon spiced applesauce, in addition to eating an unnatural amount of fresh apples.  Next up, we have whole wheat apple muffins using both fresh apples and homemade applesauce.  I found a great recipe from smitten kitchen and made a few adjustment to make my low(er) fat version.  I won't lie to you, these were definitely not the butteriest muffins ever, but they still tasted really good, moist and very apple-y.  If you would like the full-indulgence version, checkout the the original recipe.

This is how the muffins looked in the oven after 10 minutes.  I couldn't help it, I had to turn on the oven lights to look inside.  I fought every urge to keep the oven door closed while I looked!

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins
From smitten kitchen, slightly adapted to make the low-fat version

Yield: 12 Muffins

1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup homemade applesauce, unsweetened
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed and divided into 1/4 cup portions
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (8 ounces) non-fat yogurt
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper muffin cups and set aside.

Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl.  In a separate medium bowl, cream the butter and add the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy.  Mix in applesauce.  Add the beaten egg and mix well.  Blend in the yogurt.  Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar on top.  Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400°F, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes (mine were done after about 8 minutes), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack (or any flat surface) to cool completely.


This post is linked to Greenish Thumb.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zucchini for Self Defense

Apparently even bears don't like overgrown zucchinis.

NPR reported this story by the Associated Press:

A Montana woman fended off a charging bear on her back porch early Thursday by using the first weapon she could reach — a piece of zucchini. The woman was stirred after midnight by a tussle in the backyard of her home near Frenchtown, Missoula County Sheriff's Lt. Rich Maricelli said. She went to investigate and found a 200-pound black bear attacking one of her two dogs, a 12-year-old collie.

The woman stood at her back door and screamed to divert the bear's attention from the dog. She told police the bear then charged her.

"The bear growled and was very aggressive and tried to come inside of her back door," Maricelli said. "She was able to stop the pursuing bear by improvising."

The bear took a swipe at her with its paw and tore her jeans. The woman jumped back and grasped the nearest object on her kitchen counter inside the doorway — a 12-inch-long zucchini she had harvested earlier from her garden.

She flung the zucchini at the bear from a distance she estimated to be 3 feet. The vegetable bopped the bruin on the top of its head and the animal fled, Maricelli said.

State wildlife officials were searching for the bear on Thursday. Radio station KGVO in Missoula first reported on the attack.

The woman received only minor scratches that did not require medical attention, though she was going to get a tetanus shot on Thursday as a precaution, Maricelli said. Police did not release her name.

The woman also planned to take her collie to the veterinarian. The dog didn't appear to have any bite wounds, but was a bit shaky on Thursday, Maricelli said.

"I don't know if it tried to bite him, but it rolled him around a little," he said.

There you have it.  Don't give away all your extra unwanted zucchinis, because you never know when you might need one!

Saving Lettuce Seeds

I have to admit that I did not intend to save lettuce seeds this year, mainly because the thought just didn't occur to me.  But my late-spring planted lettuce all bolted quickly when it got too hot early this summer.  One day, my cut-and-come-again lettuce patch just started shooting up these tall flower stalks.  I left them alone because I was curious to see what would happen.

Well, the tall flower stalks (about 3-4 feet tall, I think) started putting on hundreds of these tiny flower buds that, according to the internet, each only opened for quick 30 minutes to self-pollinate and start setting seeds. I caught a few of the open flowers here and there throughout this summer, as you can see in the picture above.  The self-pollinated flowers turned into fuzzy seed heads, like dandelion, as a bunch of seeds formed inside each seed head.

I'm guessing that the fuzzy stuff is intended to carry mature seeds away by wind.  But I also noticed that many seed heads still had seeds intact and just lost the fuzzies.

So I took each seed head and crumbled it gently between my thumb and forefinger to harvest the seeds.  It was pretty easy, and I could do it while the seed head was still attached to the stem.  I then unloaded the contents pinched between my thumb and forefinger to a paper plate.  I repeated this process, um, like a hundred times until I got tired of it and decided I probably had enough lettuce seeds to plant an acre.  In case you're wondering, my vegetables garden is not an acre.  Not even close.

I'm not really sure how I can separate the seeds from chaff, as they all just came apart together.  Does anyone know of a easy way to do this?  Otherwise, I guess it won't hurt anything to just scatter-sow these seeds along with the chaff during next planting time.

Some lettuce seeds were black and some were white.  I'm assuming they are different varieties of lettuce, as I had several different varieties (that I can no longer identify from the bolted lettuce) planted in that corner of the garden. 

There are still hundreds more lettuce flowers and seed heads in the garden.  I don't know if I have the heart to just pull them all out, but I don't really want to harvest any more seeds, either.  Oh the dilemma.  At least I learned my lesson for next year.  If I decide to save lettuce seeds again, I will just let one or two flower stalks develop and that will still give me plenty of seeds, far more than what I can reasonably use or share.  When the weather gets too hot, I will pull out the remaining lettuce to make room for something new, like bush beans.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waiting for Lupe the Cantaloupe

Well, I was really hoping that Lupe would be ready to harvest by now, but apparently she has other ideas.

According to my own post about When to Harvest Cantaloupe, she is not ready because 1) the melon is still more green than beige, 2) the melon does not smell sweet at all; it lacks all smell actually, and most importantly, 3) the melon is not showing any signs of slipping from the vine yet.  I guess what they say about muskmelons taking an average of five weeks from the initial fruit set to reach maturity is exactly that: just an average estimate. It has now been 5 1/2 weeks since Lupe first showed up on the plant, but she is definitely not ready for harvest.

You can see in this close-up picture that the part of the melon attached to the vine still looks very much attached, with no signs of slipping.

Sigh... I guess I'll wait another week (or more) until Lupe looks more ready.  No point in harvesting an unripe melon, right?  The good news is that our strange Indiana weather is still warm enough for a few more melon growing days.  The day time highs are mostly in the 90s this week (hot!) and in the 70s next week.  I hope Lupe will be ready to harvest before the end of the month.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Planting Basil Cuttings

I'm very happy to report that the cuttings I took from my basil three weeks ago have all rooted beautifully in water.  If you'd like to see how the cuttings looked two weeks ago when they were just starting to send out roots, please see my post on Basil Propagation from Cuttings.

All three basil cuttings have grown new leaves as well as new roots in water.

Close-up of new roots on basil cuttings

I planted these rooted cuttings into separate containers and removed the bottom set of leaves because they were too close to the soil surface.  These new plants will overwinter indoors, most likely in our indoor grow box, and hopefully provide us with plenty of fresh basil all winter long.  Cheers for a successful basil propagation experiment!

This post is linked to Tuesday Garden Party.

Monday, September 20, 2010

9/20/10 Harvest - Jelly Bean Tomatoes

It's another Harvest Monday with two more firsts in our Indiana garden: a carrot of semi-respectable girth and the debut of Jelly Bean tomatoes.

We only have one square foot of carrots left, since we pulled all the other slow growing carrots about a month ago.  We pulled one of the few remaining ones this weekend to see if the micro carrots benefited from the extra month at all.  It looks like the extra time helped this carrot's girth a bit, but not its length.  I continue to be unimpressed with these carrots...

Here are the first two ripe Jelly Bean tomatoes.  One is much larger than the other, but they both ripened at the same time.  I was hoping for more than just two, but these were the only ones ready this weekend.  The tomatoes had fairly thick skin for grape tomatoes and the flavor was on the sweeter side of tomatoes.

We still have many more Jelly Bean tomatoes at various stages of ripeness and dozens of flower clusters on our four experimental Jelly Bean tomato plants.  These were started late this summer after we built our indoor grow box.  I'm hoping that there are enough warm days left in the season for a good majority of these tomatoes to ripen.  The weather has been rather inconsistent lately.  After months of brutally hot summer, it got cold really fast a few weeks ago, but now it's getting hot again, and we're expecting a high of 95F this Tuesday.  I'm sure the tomatoes are just as confused as I am.

The last part of our tiny harvest this week consists of herbs: basil, oregano and thyme.  Keith used these herbs plus lots of other spices and seasonings to make a rub for his roasted pork loin.  It became Sunday dinner with my leftover spaetzle.  If you've never had the pleasure of tasting homemade spaetzle (no, that stuff from a box doesn't count!), I invite you to view my Homemade Spaetzle Recipe post for pictures on how to make this delicious German noodle dish.  You may even be inspired to make it yourself.  If you do, you won't regret it!

Spaetzle with Emmentaler/Gruyère cheese and caramelized onions

Makings of roasted pork loin with garden-grown herbs

Please visit Daphne's Harvest Monday for more harvest pictures!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Homemade Spaetzle Recipe

While I was in college, I lived in Germany for six months and developed a great fondness for all sorts of things German, including Spätzle.  In the U.S., "Spätzle" is often written as "spaetzle." My best interpretation of the proper German pronunciation of this word is sch-PEHTZ-luh, although in some areas like Bavaria or German-speaking Switzerland, it may be pronounced sch-PEHTZ-lay or sch-PEHTZ-lee.

Spaetzle is German egg noodles that can be served as either a main dish or a side dish.  Within Germany, this dish is considered to be a Swabian speciality.  As a main dish, spaetzle is often served mixed with melted cheese and caramelized onions and called Käsespätzle (Käse means cheese in German).  As a side dish, the noodles are simply served as is or with a light coating of butter.

The word Spätzle is the diminutive form of Spatz, and it's literally translated as "little sparrow."  This name apparently comes from the fact that manually cut (and cooked) spaetzle batter resembles little sparrows (at least the old Germans must have thought so), hence the cutesy name.  The first time I made this dish, Keith thought that the individual noodles resembled cartoonish little sperms, and said that we were eating "Little Spermies."

(Click on any picture for a larger view and click once more for an even more detailed view.)

Homemade Spaetzle

Makes about 4-6 Keith-sized servings

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk (I use fat-free milk)

Beat eggs well in a medium bowl.  Mix all dry ingredients in a small bowl.  To the egg bowl, alternately mix in dry ingredients and milk until the batter is smooth and just slightly thicker than typical pancake batter.  Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes (this relaxes the gluten in the batter).

Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a large pot.  Load about 1/2 cup of batter into your Spätzle Maker* and press/drop the batter into boiling water (be careful, the boiling water steam is hot!).  The noodles will first sink and then float to the surface when they are done (10-15 seconds).  Fish out the finished noodles with a slotted spoon into a colander placed inside a separate bowl (I use the small bowl that initially held the dry ingredients) to drain.  Repeat until all batter is used up.

Finished spaetzle can be served with a quick toss of butter in a skillet as a side dish.

*Some industrious Germans make Spätzle by placing the batter on a special wooden board (Spätzlebrett) and rapidly cutting/scraping it into tiny pieces with a wide knife (Schaber).  For those of us a bit more mechanically challenged in the kitchen, there are many devices created just for spaetzle making, including some pasta makers with special spaetzle attachments.  But if you don't have one, no worries.  You can still make this delicious dish with just a regular kitchen colander (as long as the holes are big enough to push the batter through) or a large slotted spoon (again, with decent-sized holes).

To make Käsespätzle:

3 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, sliced thin
2 cups shredded good swiss cheese (I use half Emmentaler and half Gruyère)

Caramelize onions by cooking thinly sliced onions and butter in a large skillet over medium heat for about 20-25 minutes, stirring as necessary to avoid burning (I do this at the same time while I'm making the spaetzle noodles).  Mix in finished spaetzle and shredded cheese. Stir to blend everything together and allow the cheese to melt (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat and serve immediately.

It take a bit more effort, but I promise that there's a world of difference between homemade spaetzle and pre-made spaetzle from a box.  It's really delicious!

Note:  I fully intended to make käsespätzle this year with homegrown onions from my garden, but my onions didn't size up properly so I don't have any garden onions.  But if I had garden onions, this would definitely qualify as a garden dinner recipe. :-)

This post is linked to It's a Blog Party and Food on Fridays.


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