Food and Flowers

Ornamental Millet

 ‘Limelight' ornamental millet

Ornamental millet ‘Limelight', in a bed with peppers (at right) and Verbena bonariensis. That's the tomato patch in the background.

Not long ago, I found and wrote a brief post about an amazing millet bug – amazing in that it was huge, gorgeous, and something I’d never seen before.

I was hoping somebody would recognize it. So far no luck. Also, at least so far, no one who shares my appreciation of its beauty. Commenters have been silent, but e-mails and conversations with friends have reminded me that for many people, bug = disgusting.

Too bad. Some insects are just plain creepy – earwigs come at once to mind – but a lot of them are drop down gorgeous, however disgusting their behavior.

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Too-Hot Tomatoes and Peppers = Blossom Drop

flower of brandyine tomato

Will these Brandywine blossoms make it to tomatohood if the weather stays hot hot hot?

Our friend Melinda writes:

“It’s been my understanding that when it’s too hot for a sustained period (including high overnight temps–like around 80), that many veggie plants drop their flowers before they fruit (e.g., tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.). Is that true in your experience?”

Yes, but less often than you might think – or fear, given the ongoing heat wave. High night temperatures sterilize pollen and flowers that are not pollinated fall from the plant. But the window for this kind of blossom drop is comparatively narrow.

Pollen forms before the flower opens, but not that long before, and after the flower opens it must  be pollinated within a day or two (over the course of a single morning, in the case of squash), no matter what else is going on.

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FGFP – Describing The Taste(s) of Peas

FGFP stands for Food Gardeners Fine Points and I’m putting pea varieties there because a recent NPR story, Why Supertasters Can’t Get Enough Salt, implied supertasters were the only ones who could taste differences between peas.

Phooey. If you’re any kind of taster at all, you know instantly when snap peas are too young or pod peas are over the hill. And if peas were sold by name, like tomatoes, you’d have little trouble noticing that different varieties have distinct degrees and kinds of sweetness, more and less tenderness, juiciness, grassiness…

And then the words start failing. I can say things like “Early Perfection has a slightly spicy note,”  or “Casselode has old fashioned pea flavor with faint echoes of field peas.” But vegetable-speak has a long way to go before it’s as useful as wine-speak. I’m working on helping the produce catch up, so if you have good ways to describe the many, many tastes of peas, please write and let us know.

varieties of pea vines, side by side

Left to right: Early Perfection, Laxton’s Progress #9, Casselode, Sugar Ann, Gonzo, Sugar Sprint

Can’t expect tasters to know how different the plants themselves look. That’s a treat for gardeners.

Companion Planting Update: Peas and Squash

This is how our squash bed/pea patch looked yesterday, 2 weeks after the version that ended  Eric’s post on companion planting.

garden bed with lettuce, peas and squash

asparagus to the rear, mowed central path at the right. Actual distance between: @ 20 feet.

The plan: Early in spring, plant lettuce, fava beans and peas at the path edge of what will become the winter squash bed. By the time it’s warm enough to plant the squash, the peas will be flowering. By the time the squash flows lavalike over the edge of the bed, the early things will be all done.

Big question for today: will they be all done?

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Success with The Three Sisters – Companion Planting for Corn, Beans and Squash

pole beans on sapling poles

Pole green beans as only children - read on for why

If you want a stellar example of the First Peoples’ agricultural smarts, it’s hard to beat their companion planting of The Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash.

Corn, being tall and straight, provides support for the beans. Bean vines, being strong and wiry, build a framework around the corn that helps keep it from falling over. The big squash leaves cover the ground, conserving moisture and shading out weeds.

And just to put the fudge on the sundae, the beans, being legumes, provide extra nitrogen for the corn and squash.

Ever tried it?

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Long Hot Summer in the Garden ?

It’s certainly shaping up that way. Here in the Hudson Valley we’ve had temperatures in the high 80’s (and more) on and off for about a week now, making this our third blasting heat wave before the first of June.

thermometer showing 100 degrees

May 26th, 2010. Outdoor temperature on left, indoor on right. It WAS 4:30 in the afternoon, and the probe though in the shade is on the west-facing porch. But still...

It’s dry, too; the thunderstorms have missed our place, but even the people they’ve hit haven’t gotten much in the way of rain.

Midcoast Maine’s the same, in its cooler (but-not-as-cool-as-it-should-be) way, and now on the morning weather report, this:

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Lettuce ( Letuca sativa)

When our friend Eric isn’t managing Yale’s Marsh Garden or playing music, he’s cultivating his own garden, and – at least in this one instance – ignoring his own excellent advice. Unless he’s selling the stuff on the side or donating it to a food pantry, he has succumbed to temptation and planted too much lettuce all at once, just for the sheer beauty of it.

assorted lettuce varieties

“Note the color and texture variation in the Larson Lettuce Bed,” says Eric. “ I prefer looseleaf and buttercrunch lettuce, but also grow Cos. But I love the salad bowl with red, green and even dark purple leaves. A very vigorous variety ‘Speckles’ is not pictured, but I’ll follow up in the fall with more.”

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Lambsquarter, Lamb’s Quarter, Chenopodium – Delicious whatever you call it

lambs quarter( chenopodium album)

Forager Bill meets Gardener Bill in this post about about lambsquarter, one of the all-time great greens. It tastes wonderful (like a cross between asparagus and spinach);  it’s easy to prepare and cook;  it’s good for you – the usual dark green “high in vitamins and minerals, low in calories”  – and as a major bonus, it not only plants itself, it starts so early and grows so fast that you can harvest multiple crops and still have time to  plant tomatoes, corn, squash, beans or whatever in the very same ground.

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Shallots to Scilla – Plan Now for Fall Planting

This year’s official* growing season started a full month earlier than usual in our part of the Hudson Valley. Although last week was spangled with frost, spring is already more or less over. Even late-flowering bulbs are toast. The lilacs are in full bloom.

Not wishing to miss the bandwagon, I’ll go ahead and be early too. It’s time to order bulbs for fall planting: pretties for the borders, shallots for the plate.

spring bulbs: muscari, chionodoxa,scilla, puschkinia

clockwise from left: chionodoxa, muscari, puschkinia, muscari, chionodoxa, scilla, puschkinia, chionodoxa, scilla

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Growing Wild Mushrooms in your Garden – Winecaps Rule!

winecap mushroom stropharia rugosoannulata

Pioneer Winecap mushroom at lower left. They'll come up thickly in this area for the next 6 weeks or so - then keep coming sporadically through summer and fall, if conditions are right.

Winecaps (Stropharia rugosoannulata) are among the tastiest wild mushrooms: firm and meaty, with a taste of the nutty/smoky quality that makes porcini so special. They’re also large, easy to clean and almost as easy to grow as potatoes. Bill wrote a complete how-to last year.

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