Monday, June 30, 2008

Anatomy Lesson

Tonight I feel like a real city slicker - I just found out where cucumbers, zucchini, and squash come from. Of course I know that they grow on viney rambly plants. I didn't, however, know the difference between male and female plants.

My zucchini plants have been blooming for the past week and half, and I was beginning to get concerned because every single blossom has had its day in the sun, shriveled, and promptly dropped off the vine.

Well, I had been meaning to do some research on pollinating cucurbits, seeing as how I'm pretty sure that there is a definite lack of pollinators up here on the balcony. Tonight I was tapping around on the computer and suddenly, EVERYTHING MADE SENSE - the reason my zucchini flowers were dropping like flies was because they were MALE. I rushed from the computer to the garden and gave my plants a closer look.

Yup, there were two distinct types of flowers on both my zucchini and my cucumbers, which have just started to bloom in the past day or so. The male flowers looked like a normal flower...

...but the female flowers had the beginnings of a fruit behind the bloom...

The cucumbers have about 10 "men" and only one "woman" - how's that for a ratio! I took one of my small paintbrushes and made sure that she was pollinated really well. Hopefully the plants will put out some more females to even things out a bit.

The zucchini "men" are a bit premature, I'm afraid to say - they have been blooming while the "women" are still small and not ready to blossom yet. I guess the plant world imitates the human world more than we know.

The crookedneck yellow squash are on the verge of blooming - I'm interested to see how those flowers compare to the other two.

Soooooooo, this whole time, my zucchini flowers were SUPPOSED to be blooming and dropping. Those poor guys were just looking for a nice girl to take to the dance. Another couple of days and there's going to be a real shin-dig going on!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reaping What You Sow

Lots of things happening in the garden this week.

I harvested the first of the sweet banana peppers - we made eggs this morning with basil and diced peppers. Every year I am inundated with peppers, and this year is no different. The jalapenos are running a little bit behind the bananas, but they're coming along just fine.

Since the carrots have finished for the season I decided to plant a couple zucchinis in their spot, right next to the yellow crookedneck squash. They're all in one huge pot together - I hope I don't have much trouble with cross-pollination. The zucchini has bloomed already. I'm amazed how short-lived the blooms are - within the timeframe of a few hours the yolk-colored flowers open and then close for good. I was lucky enough to snap this beauty this morning; the hues look too rich to be real:

My eggplants continue to steal the show. The grandpappy keeps swelling day by day - I'm smelling some eggplant parmesan in the next week or two. There are two other babies, and four or five buds waiting to bloom.

I found a Japanese Beetle munching on my basil the other day - that's a problem I definitely want to nip in the bud. I remember my mom's rosebushes would be covered with these iridescent crawlies back when I was a kid - I won't stand for it! It's amazing how a garden attracts so many different organisms, from insects to birds to mammals and of course diseases. Just when I feel like I've got everything back on track, a new threat pops up.

Generally things have been on auto pilot, though. I water once, sometimes twice a day, fertilize with Espoma Plant Tone about once a month, and that's about it. We've had some stormy weather the past few weeks, so I'd have to say my biggest problem is making sure the pots don't blow over in the wind. The tomatoes have taken several hard falls because of their height.

Things have finally grown so much that they are very visible from the street below. I'm sure the neighbors think I'm a kook when they see me tending to my plants - they probably wonder what the hell I have growing up here. At least I won't have to worry about them running off with a tomato or pepper!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


It just wouldn't be summer in Cincinnati without these noisy plump little guys.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What's Up, Doc?

Right on the heels of the beets last weekend, today I pulled a batch of carrots!

These guys have by far been the sneakiest vegs in the garden. For weeks I had left them alone because I didn't see any round root tops poking through the dirt - I just figured they still needed time to mature. All along I have restrained myself from impatiently poking around in the dirt too much - a habit that I'm told I've inherited from my grandfather. My grandma said that every spring he would be out in the dirt poking around to see if the peas were sprouting.

When I first planted the seeds this spring I did way too much poking around, so I've tried to hold myself back lately. But today after work for some reason I decided to give things a quick look-see just for the hell of it. Good think I did - those sneaky little carrots were just nestled down farther than I thought! I poked through a small bit of dirt and struck orange gold! I felt like Bugs Bunny walking through the apartment with a bunch of carrots in my hand - tops and all. I'm amazed by how TALL the greens are - probably about 10 times the actual length of the carrot itself!

In the interest of wanting to taste the carrot, the whole carrot, and nothing but the carrot, I just snipped off the ends and ate them raw as a snack. They still had that characteristic almost bitter celery-ish taste, but there was this prevailing sweetness as well. By far the best carrots I've ever tasted, and so cute too!

(my favorite is the fat squatty one at the bottom)

I've also been playing hide-and-go-seek with another veg the past few days...I see you hiding in there Mr. Eggplant!

I'm so pleased that everything has actually produced this year. I thought for sure I'd get stung on something, being such a novice with most of this stuff. Tomatoes, herbs, peppers, no problem. But eggplant? I counted about 8 or 9 other buds on the plant as well. Sounds like I'm going to need a few more recipes than I thought...

The new job this week has been going as good as can be expected - it's a new job, I'm the new kid on the block, I stick out like a sore thumb. Other than my own self-consciousness, I feel pretty good about it. It's different than my old job, for better and for worse. I think all things considered that it was a good decision to move.

I'm ashamed to admit that I miss my old job though - or maybe I just miss the comfort of it. I am a creature of habit; I'm terrified of change. At least I'm not having panic attacks and stuck in my bed every day. The worst case scenario has not happened, so that is proof to me that I CAN do this.

I just need to remember to take care of myself, to admit that I'm human and things will not always go perfectly and THAT'S OK - living in the moment rather than worrying and "awful-izing" about future events that haven't happened and probably won't ever happen.

It all boils down to the word "Om" in yoga:



Sunday, June 15, 2008

Moving On

This weekend I harvested the beets, as promised. After taking a trip to Findlay Market earlier in the morning on Saturday, I decided it was time. Just seeing all of the veggies and herbs at the farmer's market really inspires me to keep gardening. I can't wait until the time when I have a bigger plot of land - then I'll really be able to produce enough veggies to keep us stocked throughout the summer months.

The variety of beets that I grew this year was Cylindra. They're not the standard roundish beet that I'm used to. They are oblong, almost like a fingerling potato. In my case, about half of each beet ended up growing above ground - odd? Here's the freshly pulled bunch:

Since I knew that I was only going to be reaping one batch worth of beets, I had done some research to find a new, refreshing recipe. Up until now I have only eaten them pickled, with thanks to my mother. I happened upon a recipe for Red Beet Salad with Orange Vinaigrette. It was pretty darn simple:
  • Cook the beets for about 30 minutes and then sluff the skins off. Slice them into small rounds.
  • For the vinaigrette, whisk together diced shallots, olive oil, cider vinegar, fresh orange juice, ground cloves, salt, and pepper.
  • Arrange a bed of peppery greens, such as arugula. Next arrange the beets on the plate intermingled with slices of fresh orange. Crumble fresh goat cheese on top, drizzle with vinaigrette, and snip some chives over everything as a garnish.
I was quite pleased with the results - both refreshing and colorful. I'm definitely deeming the beets a success this year.

Since the big radish/beet/carrot container is now empty except for the carrots, I've decided to experiment with yet another veggie during the hotter summer months. At Findlay Market this weekend I picked up three yellow crookedneck summer squash plants. For now I've got them planted opposite the carrots. I'm just going to have to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't start crowding the carrots - I've heard that squash have a tendency to take over spaces. I think the carrots have just a few more weeks to go, so once I've pulled them, the squash should be able to "let it all hang out" over the whole container. They should be a nice counterpart to my cucumbers, which are also doing extremely well. I put a cage up in their container today in the hopes that I'll be able to train them - we'll see. Here is a picture of one of the new squash babies:

The rest of the garden also continues to grow by leaps and bounds daily. This HOT HOT weather is just what it needed. The jalapeno and hungarian wax peppers are in full bloom, and I spotted the first baby peppers on the hungarian wax the other day. I'll be interested to see how hot vs. mild they are. They were labeled as sweet, but I've been reading that they actually have some heat to them - bring it on!

The herbs are really taking off as well finally. I made a "down home country breakfast" this weekend with hashbrowns and eggs, both of which were liberally herbed - basil in the eggs and thyme/rosemary in the hashbrowns. I'm looking forward to jazzing up my vegetarian biscuits 'n gravy with some fresh herbs and peppers. I get a big kick out of cooking certain "country" meals that my grandmother or great-grandmother may have cooked. It's fun to update old-timey recipes with new ingredients or fresh herbs - it's also a great way to be creative when it comes to substituting non-meat products for the old standbys like bacon, lard, and sausage.

I start my new job tomorrow - the fact that my anxiety hasn't flared up is a sign that the decision to move was a good one. It's also a sign that I've learned ways to help myself from getting overwhelmed by a job in the first place.

I'm proud of myself for all that I've done so far towards overcoming this condition - it sure as hell hasn't been easy. I cringe when I think back to that first weekend in September 2007 and the subsequent terrified visits to the ER, doctor, and therapist. After a week, when I was able to even entertain the idea of going back to work, those days in the office were so long and so scary. I felt like every day I had a pitbull by my side - this powerful force that could turn on my at any unexpected moment and attack me to the point of dizziness, nausea, searing stomach pains, racing heart, and panic attacks. It is impossible to explain something like severe anxiety to someone who hasn't experienced it - it just ends up sounding like I'm exaggerating or blowing things out of proportion. In reality, it's so much more than being "nervous" about something.

The sheer terror that I lived in for months was unbearable. I'm not even sure how I got through most of those days. I know that I spent many hours trying to distract myself with the positive things in my life - things like my husband, my cats, and of course, my garden.

The other thing that helped so very much was the yoga class that I started going to. Yoga is one of those things that I've always been curious about, but was never confident or motivated enough to just go out and DO. Well, there is no better motivator when your sanity is on the line and something presents the possibility of relief. Shine Yoga Center has become a haven for me - it's helped me to re-train my brain on how to relax. It's more than just exercise or becoming flexible or being trendy - it really is one of the best forms of therapy that I've found. The particular vein of yoga that Shine espouses is Anusara, which is focused more on love and acceptance of yourself, no matter what you individual limitations may be. That's exactly the kind of energy that I need to be around - keep on preachin', brother.

It's not often that I like to accept compliments or praise, especially from myself (anyone's harshest critic), but after years of self-doubt, I am learning to love myself.

Here's to turning a new page...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Surprise, Surprise...

OK, so I'm going to boast a little bit here. Look at this beauty...

Once again, my inexperience in growing most of these veggies has led to a wonderful surprise. A few posts ago I had given a picture of what I thought was an eggplant bloom. Little did I know, but that fuzzy little green nugget was only the beginning.

I came home from work today and immediately headed out to the balcony. Doing my normal rounds, the eggplant is one of the last plants I come to. I think I did some cartoonish double-take *blink blink* move, because I couldn't believe what my eggplant bloom had done overnight. The crinkly looking little nub was gone - it had been replaced by a delicate, lavender colored blossom. The yellow, purple and green, along with the shape of the flower, remind me of a young girl's easter dress, or something equally girly and feminine.

In a way, it's almost better not knowing what to expect because the element of surprise is so much stronger.

I'm gearing up to start a new job this coming Monday. I won't lie, my current job has been the main source of most of the stress and anxiety in my life. I have been there for three years, and I'm finally ready to move on. More like I'm forcing myself to move on. It almost feels like I'm finally getting the strength to move on from an abusive relationship. I'll spare the details; let's just say I work for an unethical sociopath.

Ever since I gave notice, which was about three weeks ago, I have felt immeasurably better - physically, mentally, emotionally. It's bittersweet for me to move on, but I know it's been my stumbling block all along. Hell, I pretty much feel like my old self most days now - wait, even BETTER than my old self. Now, I have better tools in place to keep myself from losing touch with myself and what I need out of life. If nothing else, I have that much to thank the anxiety for.

This garden is a manifestation of the growth I'm experiencing personally. In nurturing it, I nurture myself.

Forgive me for waxing philosophical, but that's one of the goals of a blog, right?

Monday, June 9, 2008

One Little Onion

I did it yesterday - I pulled my only green onion that made it to full size:

I must say, while I didn't have great success growing green onions from seed, the one that made it into my salad last night had great taste and crunch. I know that I didn't plant the seeds in the best conditions. They didn't have enough space and they didn't get enough sun because the lettuce was overshadowing them most of the time. All lessons learned for next year!

Yesterday I pulled what was left of my lettuce as well. Most of the plants had aphid problems, and I'm not sure about you, but I really wasn't feeling like eating any aphid-ey lettuce in the near future. That's alright, I got about a month of lettuce out of it, so I'm pleased. I do think I'll be growing a different variety next year, though. Bibb was nice, but I'd like to try something that is more interesting texturally.

After my little pulling rampage the container that held the lettuce and onion was empty. SO, I decided to plant yet another round of radish and see how well it fares in the heat. I've had such good luck with them so far this year and I have so many seeds left over that I really don't have much to lose. Not to mention they grow like weeds! Radish Round #2 is just now getting ready for harvest, so we'll see how Round #3 does.

The garden has really been popping lately. I just finished up the last of the peas, which produced well given their space constraints. I'd grow them again next year, definitely. While they're short-lived, they are the princesses of the garden. The peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are all blooming their little hearts out. The cucumber seedlings have put up several sets of true leaves and are looking plucky. The carrots are getting close to harvest, but still need a couple weeks. I'm thinking the beets might be about ready, though. I have plans for them this weekend!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Say Hello to my Little Friend

I was out playing mother hen in the garden this afternoon and look who I found:

Looks like I'm not the only one with aphids on the brain - this little ladybug must be having a field day feasting on my smorgasbord of aphids. I've seen one or two before, but this little guy is the first one I've been fast enough to catch on camera. It's amazing how nature has a way of taking its course, regardless of the roadblocks humans try to put up. My balcony is fairly high off of the ground - maybe the scent of aphids was wafting in the air one breezy day and that's what drew the ladybug near? I'm still fighting the aphid battle, even though they are not as bad as they were earlier. I'll take all the help I can get!

On another note, Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you the first tomato of the season:

This warm muggy weather lately has really caused the tomatoes to start fruiting. I now have a few of the "clusters" that are characteristic of Sweet 100 plants. I'm so excited!

Also, today I picked the first batch of peas. It was only 6 or 7 pods worth, but that's a tasty sweet snack after a long day sitting in front of a computer - quite a contrast in worlds. Sweet peas from the garden can't even compare to those frozen green pebbles you buy in the store. I remember eating so many raw peas a kid that I'd get sick - maybe it's a good thing we don't have a whole mess of peas to eat this year. It's hard to stop when they're so good.

One of my favorite noises is that muted "pop" each pod makes when you split it:

I was telling a friend about my green ambitions this year. He joked, saying I was "going Walden". With the way this world goes sometimes, I'm not sure that's all too bad of an idea.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Green After the Storm

Why is is that everything looks greener after a storm? It's as if someone took some Windex to a dirty window - the world is brighter and greener...twinkling.

I love the garden after a rain in the summer. A good soaker. You can almost hear the little plants emit a collective *sigh* and then wiggle their happy roots in the soft soil.

The past few days have reminded me of last summer's heat-laden drought where I had to water things twice a day just to break even. The humidity and temperature lately have kept me on my toes with the watering can. Today's rain will really make things pop in the upcoming week or so.

I'm proud to say that the eggplant appears to have a bloom! Maybe that ladybug I found on him over the weekend gave him an ego boost - she must be tending to him just as I am. I love growing vegetables that I have no experience with. It's such an adventure as to how fast things grow, when they bloom, what a bloom even looks like, and when they're ready to harvest. I've heard the people have mixed results with potted eggplants, but I'm encouraged that he's happy enough to start blossoming.

Another blossom spotted today - my hungarian wax pepper also appears to be recovering nicely from his bout with aphids. I love it when little buds are nestled within a tangle of leaves, as if the plant is saying "I've got a secret, look what I've been working on!" Those blooms are always the best - the ones where the flower goes unnoticed until lo-and-behold, one day there's a full-grown veggie ready to be picked. I snapped this little bud after the storm - he wasn't sneaky enough to avoid my watchful eye:

Getting ready for the newest harvest of the season - the peas are almost fat enough for snacking. It was beautiful to see the water beading and dripping lazily from the pods today after the rain. The results are even better than I thought they would be for my first stab. We're going to have more than just one or two pods!

Lastly, I'm breathing a sigh of relief when it comes to my baby cucs. It appears that the starlings have moved on and decided NOT to snip off my sprouts (like they did with round #2 of the radish). All plants are alive and happy as clams - I've seen some true leaves starting to form as well. I'm curious to see if the cucs start climbing on their own or if I'm going to have to guide them up a trellis or cage.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

GOOD NEWS PART 2: Starling Update

So I finally broke down and gave my landlord an ultimatum about these starlings living underneath the balcony. Basically, it was either them, or me. Seeing as how I pay rent and they don't, he came out a couple days after I called him. While his patch-job on the hole isn't the prettiest thing you've ever seen, I think it's doing the trick:

He came out on Friday to repair, and lo-and-behold, I've only seen one solitary starling hanging around since then. I have to say, he seems to be pretty weepy and mopey, justing squatting on a telephone line and looking around as though he's lost. I'm sorry for kicking you out of your nest, buddy! I haven't seen any more damage in the garden, so I think that this pest has been kicked - for now, at least, until they find a new nesting place.

Another good note, looks like we have some ripe strawberries! What a beautiful thing to wake up to...

GOOD NEWS PART 1: Aphid Update

I've been having this problem with aphids, right? It was manageable while they were on the few leaves of the eggplant, peppers, and basil, but when they started moving to my three tomato plants - the sentinels of my garden - well, that's where I drew the line.

I've been growing completely organic this year, but I was willing to breach that gap when it came to the life and death of everything I've been nurturing for the past few months. I had already sprayed the plants with that garlic slurry I talked about earlier - pretty much useless. I was hoping that it would send them packing, but alas, my aphids seems to love it (and can you blame them? Garlic - YUM!).

So yesterday I headed to H.J. Benken Greenhouse, the local place that I love, with an air of defeat. I moped around at first, nosing around at their products, wondering how many chemicals I was going to end up polluting the garden with. Finally I just decided to ask someone's opinion. The employee who helped me was so very nice, and when I told him I was "trying" to go organic this year he immediately recommended me a spray product that is approved for organic use. It's called "Insect Killing Soap with Seaweed Extract" (generically enough). It's made by a company called Safer Brand.

I had heard that some people had luck just mixing dish soap with water and spraying, so I was willing to give this a try. I DOUSED all affected plants with this spray, which ended up taking about 1/3 of the bottle. We had a very warm, sunny, humid day yesterday, so I thought I'd just let things sit and check on them the next day. This morning the first thing I did was throw on some P.J.s and head out to the balcony, bed-head and all.
  • First stop: Eggplant (the original culprit)
    • CLEAN!
  • Second stop: Peppers
    • CLEAN!
  • Third: Basil
    • CLEAN! (but his tender leaves were burned a little bit - maybe the sun was not good mixed with the soap?)
  • Fourth and Final: Tomatoes
    • CLEAN!!!!
All that was left of my scourge was a bunch of flaky aphid husks. My apprehensions have vanished - I would DEFINITELY recommend this product to anyone seeking a safer, less toxic way of kicking some aphid ass.

My only caution going forward is to not use this product every day, as it does seem to burn some of the more tender leaves on a plant. The bottle recommends using every 5-7 days when insects are present.

For now, I know I'll sleep much better (and worry a lot less) knowing that I have a solution to turn to if they end up coming back. Half of the battle with anxiety and worrying is knowing that even if bad things do happen in the future, you have tools and the know-how to combat those things. Yes, scary and negative things will always happen to all of us, but if I know that I have the power to stop these things, then the dread and panic are much less likely to overtake me.