Archive for June, 2011

Tomato Pests (Hornworms) – and THEIR Pests (Braconid wasps)

(female) luna moth, Actias luna

A Luna moth (Actias luna). Not the enemy, even though its children are very large and green.

I don’t have a picture of a hawkmoth, aka sphinx moth or hummingbird moth (so named for its ability to hover and its very long tongue). But if you see one of these gray-brown creatures, almost big enough to pass for a small bird, you’re seeing disaster on the wing. The Hawkmoth’s very large green children are hornworms.

Manduca quinquemaculata or Manduca sexta, tomato or tobacco hornworm

Tomato – or more likely tobacco - hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata or M. sexta), both voracious consumers of tomato, pepper, petunia, tobacco and other plants in the nightshade family.

In our New York and Maine gardens, hornworms usually show up in late July or August. But I’m thinking about them early this year because a Facebook friend in Virginia is already beset.

“Hornworms are eating my tomato plants,” she wrote, “anyone have advice on how to get rid of them?”

But of course!

Try the tips on Hornworm eradication at the end of this post, I replied, and if you get the chance, employ these two major organic defenses:

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Growing Great Lettuce – and The Best Spring Salad Dressing

After years and years of happy harvests, garden mainstays like heirloom tomatoes, squash blossoms and armloads of fresh herbs are as familiar as breathing, but every spring I get surprised all over again by the lettuces: how beautiful they are, how delicious, how willing…

And how different from the lettuce at the market, whether super or farmers.’ Being both extremely bulky and highly perishable, first class lettuce is a perfect poster child for home-grown.

panisse lettuce, forellenschuss lettuce

Panisse (left) and Forellensclhuss – one modern, one heirloom. One toothsome, one super-tender. Neither suitable for any but the most local commercial cultivation.

It’s an ever-changing parade, with overlapping performers. First come the mild, mid-green frills of Black Seeded Simpson, dotted around in self-sown clumps, offspring of last year’s late summer’s crop. Then close behind them the classics of spring planting, including our favorite: buttery thick-leafed Webb’s Wonderful.

volunteer black seeded simpson lettuce

Self-sown Black Seeded Simpson, being permitted to stay in place beside the tomato patch. It grows so fast we ignore Rule # 1 and just cut the crowded seedlings by handfuls until we’ve used them up.

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In Kitchen and Garden – Live on the Radio

or more accurately, me live on the radio, answering your questions about how to grow great food, whether you’ve got a big garden or not. Preparing the goodies after you’ve grown them (or snagged them at the Farmers’ Market) is also fair game.

Just tune in this very Tuesday (tomorrow!) at 2PM, to Martha Stewart Living Today on Sirius Satellite Radio. No subscription? No problem. There’s a  7 day free trial that will handily let you listen – and I hope participate.

vegetable garden with fence

Part of our Hudson Valley Vegetable (and fruit!) Garden - but yours doesn't need to be nearly this big to deliver big rewards.

If you’re anything like me, questions are already coming out of your ears – what, for instance, am I going to DO with all this lettuce ? – but if a bit of inspiration would help, try the roundup of food garden posts at  Vegetable Gardening for Smarties, Not Dummies.

Almost Al’s Ricotta Tart

plum-topped ricotta tart

Almost Al’s Ricotta Tart (with puree from our own Kaga plums and a few Johnny Jump-ups because why not?)

Summer and winter – and spring and fall; this is a treat that knows no season – my friend Alex Tuller’s ricotta tart has been a go-to dessert ever since I had the first piece, back in 2006.

It’s easy, delicious, handsome, ideal for making ahead…and on top of that it’s infinitely variable, which is why I call it “Almost” Al’s tart. Good as it is in the original I usually wind up playing around with it.

ricotta plum tart, sliced

The plum puree is so intense only a very thin layer is needed. If using freshly cooked peaches, for instance, you might want it a little thicker

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