Thursday, June 29, 2017

Green Beans: It's What's for Lunch

I recently went out to the vegetable garden and noticed that I had some green beans that were ready to be picked.  Now, the thing with green beans and most garden vegetables is that you have to continue to harvest on a regular basis.  If you don't then the plant will be slow to produce more.  So, I really wanted to pick this handful of green beans because they were getting kind of big and they weren't going to taste as good if I waited much longer.  Okay, now what do I do with a handful of green beans?  Well, it was Saturday and I had a little time at lunch.  I decided to boil the green beans until they were tender. This took about ten minutes. Then I put some Italian salad dressing on them and added my first tomato of the season, a 'Sun Gold' cherry tomato.  I put the lot in the refrigerator and waited until it was cold.  Wow!  the flavor of the fresh beans and tomato was out of this world good and it was also super healthy.  You could make a bigger batch up on a Sunday and eat it for lunch or dinner during the week.  I'm thinking that some crumbled feta would also make a good edition to this cold green bean salad.  I have some hot banana peppers in the garden that are not quite ripe, but when they do get ripe, I'm going to add them to this recipe as well.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Perennial Spotlight: Monarda 'Jacob Cline'

Monarda didyma or bee balm, as it is more commonly called, is one of the best perennials for our area in Virginia.  It is a drought tolerant plant that can take full sun or part sun.  I may get some powdery mildew on it a little later in the season, but by then I'm ready to prune it down any way.  Bee balm is an absolute favorite of humming birds.  When it blooms be watching because you will inevitably see hummingbirds.  Bee balm comes in a few different colors like red, purple and pink.  I also have a purple one that I received in a plant swap, but I prefer the red ('Jacob Cline').  It will self seed freely and you may find it next spring in different areas of your flower bed.  The seedlings are easy to pull out though and either dispose of or plant somewhere else.  This picture below is from a few years ago when I let it self seed.  It's beautiful in mass and you can see why hummingbirds would be attracted to that brilliant red.   
This is what I have now after four years of the garden being unattended and a lot more shade from the encroaching trees. 

 You can see that it is just starting to come into bloom.  I will get a few weeks of bloom from it.

If you are looking for a pairing to go with bee balm, shasta daisy 'Becky' blooms around the same time as bee balm 'Jacob Cline'.  You can find bee balm in most nurseries, although it may take some hunting to find 'Jacob Cline' because there are so many new varieties on the market..  You can always order it online from a nursery as well.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Green Beans: It's What's for Dinner

This summer I am going to highlight the vegetables in my garden that I harvest and then how I plate them up.  I'm calling it "It's What's for Dinner".  Why?  Well, in past years, I had an abundance of a particular vegetable and having it cooked the same way a couple times a week gets dull on the palate.  I highlighted Japanese eggplant a few days ago and today will be green beans. 
 The row of green beans ('Blue Lake" bush variety from seed) that I planted at the beginning of May were ready for the first harvest today. Really, if you are new to vegetable gardening, it doesn't get any easier or cheaper than planting a row of green beans. You just need some space, about 8 feet, to have enough beans for a family of four to eat.  Pests are really not a nuisance with beans either and they are quick to grow from seed to harvest.  Mine grew from seed to harvest time in about six or seven weeks.  Compare that to a tomato and well, say no more.   If you haven't tried growing them, you really should.

I picked these when they were about the width of a pencil.  Now, how do I want to cook them?
I found a recipe that sounded good on All Recipes.  You can find it here.  I did change it a little bit because this recipe called for canned green beans.  If you are trying this recipe out with fresh green beans like me, I first boiled the beans (after I snapped off the ends and rinsed them) for a couple of minutes until they were tender.  Then I went by the recipe.  Critics in the family thought they were delicious (parmesan cheese goes a long way when added to vegetables!).

Friday, June 23, 2017

Tomato Pests

The funny thing about people is that sometimes we make things so hard on ourselves.  I grow a lot of different vegetables and by the far the hardest to grow are tomatoes.  What is the most popular vegetable to grow in the U.S. though?  Tomatoes!  There are so many diseases and pests that affect tomatoes and yet we continue to invest in them.  Notice I say "we" as I will not stop either.  Fresh tomatoes right off the vine are just soooo good. 

One of the big tomato pests that I have a problem with is tomato horn worms. They can devour a entire tomato plant within days.  You can leave on vacation and come back a few days later to find your tomato plants reduced to sticks.  By the beginning of June, I start inspecting the plants for the horn worms and I do this almost every day.  I found a large tomato horn worm yesterday on the 'Sun Gold' tomato plant.  They get about as large as your pinky finger.  They blend in with the plant as they are exactly the same color.  Below is another one I found this morning on the same plant.  This one was much younger and much smaller.
 They will eat through the tomatoes....
 And devour the leaves on the plant as well.....
Finding a branch without leaves is the tell tale sign that you have one or more tomato horn worms.  So what do you do when you find one?  I pick them off which is what most experts recommend doing.  One even said, feed them to your chickens.  Well, I don't have any chickens!   I'm that girl that just can't squish a bug either, especially a LARGE bug.  I read to put them in a bucket full of water and drown them.  Well, I tried that too, but I watched the little guy slashing around in the water and I just couldn't do it.  I ended up throwing the bucket of water with the horn worm in the woods. Experts also recommend leaving them right where they are and letting parasitic wasps lay their eggs on the worm.  As the eggs metamorphasize they digest the host worm. They are easy to spot.  You can plainly see the white eggs on the back of the worm.  I have seen this happen in previous years here in my garden.  However, you don't want to wait too long for a parasitic wasp to come along or your tomato plant will be a goner. I'm crossing my fingers that I don't find any more and that the ones in the woods don't find their way back.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ichiban Eggplant: It's What's for Dinner

The first Japanese eggplant 'Ichiban' were harvested from the garden this week.  I picked the eggplant when they were about six to eight inches long.  Often, it is difficult to gauge how much to plant  when it comes to vegetables because you definitely want enough to harvest at one time for dinner and more is always good too.  However, I have limited space, so I would prefer to not have an over abundance so that I can grow a larger variety of vegetables.  Of course, I don't want too little either. Nobody wants to split four green beans for dinner, ya know what I mean?

After I picked the four eggplant, I went to the computer and looked up Japanese eggplant recipes. The beauty of the internet is that it gives us instant access to what we need.  The recipe I decided to use was a Bobby Flay recipe from the Food Network website which can be found here.  I marinated the eggplant for an hour like the recipe called for and it added a lot of flavor.  Then you grill it for three minutes on each side and it's done. 

My family critics were mixed on the recipe.  I love eggplant, so I loved the recipe.  Others in our family that don't love eggplant so much didn't change their mind on the vegetable.  Next round of eggplant that I harvest, I'm going to try a diced and sautéed recipe.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Vegetable Gardening in June

I have a rather small vegetable garden.  It's big enough to fit a couple of rows of beans, five or six tomato plants, two or three peppers, three eggplant, and a few each of zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers.  I planted the garden around May 5th which is a good time to start planting your summer vegetables (also known as warm season crops) here in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Any earlier and you might get a late frost that will wipe out the plants and any later just does not give the plants adequate time to get their root systems developed before the heat sets in for the summer.  I do not plant everything the first week however.  Succession planting (planting the same plant or seeds a week or two apart) is important so that you get a boost of vegetables in the late summer and in to fall.

The green beans ('Blue Lake' bush variety by seed) were planted with one row the first week of May and the second row about two weeks after that. If I had more room, I would have continued to plant every two weeks for another month.  This would give me green beans all summer. 

 It is about six weeks since I planted the green beans by seed (super easy to do!) and they are getting big.  They aren't big enough to pick yet, but they will be pretty soon!
 The tomatoes are doing exceptionally well this year.  I planted all heirloom varieties which means that I may not get as big a yield, but I'm hoping for really great taste and interesting looking tomatoes.  The one below is 'Big Rainbow'.  It has been slow to bear fruit, but the plant is large and very healthy.

 'Rutgers' is another new one for me this year.  It is a determinate tomato meaning it will set all of it's fruit at one time and then be done for the season.  Determinates also set their fruit faster, so 'Rutgers' is coming along much quicker than the other tomatoes and already has twenty five nice looking green tomatoes. It has been said that the 'Rutgers' tomato is what Campbell's Soup uses to make their tomato soup recipe.
 I also planted 'Mr. Stripey' which is still in the flowering phase and 'Sun Gold' which is my favorite cherry tomato.  'Sun Gold' is big and healthy with tons of tomatoes, but it's dealing with quite a few pests.  I will be posting on the pests later this week.  I also just planted 'Cherokee Purple' last week.  With this late addition it will hopefully allow me to have tomatoes well in to October or November.

Moving on to the peppers!  The peppers are also doing well although we have had a bit too much rain for their liking and the bottom leaves are turning yellow.  Below is a banana pepper that is starting to bear fruit.

A new pepper for me this year is shishito.  I read an article about the trendy shishito pepper in early spring this year.  When I went to get my first round of vegetables from Lowes, there was one shishito pepper plant left.  I wish I had two, but one will have to suffice this year.  We already had one round of peppers from this plant. They are really easy to cook up and are very trendy in metropolitan restaurants as an appetizer.  Foodie Crush has some great recipes to use shishito peppers too.

Eggplants are next in line.  I have found better luck in my area with the Japanese eggplants rather than the traditional kind.  This has been the best year thus far for the eggplants.  The plants are large and healthy with lots of flowers and I will be picking eggplants very soon for dinner.

 The yellow squash were planted by seed (again very easy to do).  They are planted in the worst soil area in the garden.  The garden is on a slight slope so the amendments to the soil over time tend to rest at the back of the garden.  That means that whatever is planted at the front is in quite a bit of clay.  None the less, squash are easy to grow and they are already bearing as well.

I planted zucchini by seed and in succession.  Zucchini and squash both will give out a lot of produce off of one plant, but we have a big problem here with the squash vine borer and well as fungus.  Sometimes right when it starts to produce the whole plant will succumb to one or the other issues.  So the zucchini were planted a few weeks apart for the last six weeks or so. 

Lastly, the cucumbers!  A super easy vegetable to grow from seed here.  They do not seem to have the pest and fungus problems as the other vegetables and do not need to be planted in succession.  If you are starting out growing vegetables this is the one plant that you should start with as it is so easy and cheap since you can grow them from seed.

There are lots of options for buying vegetable plants and seeds here in town.  Lowes and Home Depot carry a large assortment and I do get some from there.  I also purchase from Jamestown Feed and Seed and Homestead Nursery.  I have even purchased one or two from McDonalds pop up nurseries and from Walmart.  The best prices are at Jamestown Feed and Seed and Homestead Nursery and I think they do a better job selecting the vegetable varieties that do well in our area. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Foliage Follow Up

The 16th of the month is Foliage Follow Up day for garden bloggers.  Pam at Digging hosts this garden meme every month.  You can check out other foliage follow up blogger posts on her website.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Welcome to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!  To see more GBBD blogs, check out the host, Carol at May Dreams Gardens.