Black Thumb Goes Green-ish?

Disclaimer: I’ve been stockpiling blog entries so I could survive the rough times without another hiatus. This one’s been on the shelf a little longer than it should have been, so if this sounds more appropriate for August, that’s because that’s when it was written.

One of the things I like most about my new place is that it has a yard. A tiny one. And it doesn’t have any grass to cut or anything. It does, however, have room for some potted plants. My landlord even said I could plant things in the little strips of dirt/gravel we have, but that would require a shovel and more energy than I have. But I did decide to give potted plants a go to see if I fare any better when I actually have natural light available.

Knowing how excited I was about possibilities two of my friends bought me plants as housewarming gifts, so I have garlic chives and zucchini courtesy of them. I don’t actually eat zucchini, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them that. Then I bought myself lavender, rosemary, and two different kinds of basil. Finally a friend who was leaving handed down a large pot with a tomato plant and kale as well as a strawberry plant and something else he thinks is a flower. So I have a good little pot garden going.

And much to my surprise, it’s going. Well, the basil’s going. Like crazy, truth be told. The strawberry plant produced exactly one berry then decided it was done for the year. But it is growing and producing new leaves, so who knows? The lavender plant has new flowers. The tomato plant has flowers and some tiny green tomatoes.

The one problem is the zucchini. It’s growing just fine and it’s producing big beautiful blossoms. But they don’t survive long enough to make zucchinis. Every time one blooms and looks promising I come out the next day to find the stem just below it severed. I don’t know if something’s biting them off or someone is sneaking into my yard and cutting them off or if they’re just falling off. Either way, no zucchinis. Which, I suppose is just as well because it saves me the trouble of figuring out what the hell to do with them.

At any rate, it’s probably too early to say, but I have a glimmer of hope the black thumbs are turning greenish.

Lavender

Zucchini with Genovese Basil

Garlic Chives

French Basil

Tomato and Kale

Zucchini

Attack of the Killer Tomato Worms

I am all kinds of evil.  Not only did I miss my post for Friday, I’m coming in with one that’s disgusting:

Tomato Worms.

Every year, I get a least a few.  Normally I don’t find out I’ve gained a parasitic little party-crasher until a least two branches of my tomato plant have been stripped bare.

I thought I was done for this year.  My larger plant started showing signs that it was the munchy-of-choice for a tomato worm.  Since I’m trying to be pesticide free in my little garden, I hunted for the worm and any of his friends to find them and squish them.  But hunt as I might, I couldn’t find the little bastard.  I was forced to resort to Sevin dusting the plant–lightly as possible.

That was about a month ago.  Thursday, I started seeing it again.  The little bastard was killing my plant….so I hunted, never found him, and went for the Sevin dust–heavily.  Screw pesticide free, it was ON.

Today, I noticed the tiny cherry tomato plant on the opposite side of the patio–the worm equivalent of a whole continent away–was looking picked clean.  Son of a…..out I went.  This time I was going to find the offender and squish him.  Or possibly snip him with my garden clippers.

I found one right off.  About an inch and a half long and slightly less diameter than a pencil.  Snipped off that end of the stem and squished his green body under the leg of a patio chair.

But something told me he wasn’t alone.  So I went back.  For over an hour I hunted.  Nothing on the bigger plant.  And nothing left on the smaller…..and then I saw it.  Like something from a bloody sci-fi horror film.  Straight from the intergalactic hub of alien invasions, Vancouver, B.C.   Clinging to a spindly volunteer tomato that was trying to reach its way out of the man-eating-squash jungle, was the biggest, most disgusting tomato worm I’d ever seen.

Seriously, I didn’t know they even GOT that big*.  I usually get these things when they’re around the size of the first one I spotted–an inch to an inch and a half, and never any bigger around than a pencil.  Sometimes they’re even smaller when I end them.

This sumbitch was bigger than any of my fingers.  He was bigger around than my thumb and at least 4 inches long–when he was contracted.  I’m pretty sure he alone was responsible for 98% of the tomato plant carnage I’d been seeing.

And I was pissed.

I clipped off the already-stripped stem he was devouring and flung it onto the patio.  As big as he was, I couldn’t risk a close-range squish–it would be begging for a coating of green goo, and no one wants that.  I finally rolled him over with a garden cart.  Even with the green goo emanating from his back end, the little fucker KEPT EATING THAT STEM.  He was technically still moving and going at it when I went in the house.  I mean, there’s no way he could survive having his guts trailing out his ass, right?

Honestly, I give loads of thanks he wasn’t bigger than that or I would have been facing a reenactment of Tremors.  If he has similar-sized friends out there that I missed, I may yet be forced to take more drastic measures.  I’m seriously considering assembling my arsenal of large cal ammo and “a few household chemicals in the proper proportions.”

If you don’t have a post from me as scheduled this week?  Send Kevin Bacon.

 

*Now that I have googled I’m horrified to see they DO get this big. WTF!

If I Disappear….Question the Squash.

First, Happy Canada Day!  Hope our neighbors to the north had a great celebration.  I marked the occasion rocking out to the annual Radio 3 “Sing For Your Song” podcast special, followed by a lot of back podcasts of Shelagh Rogers’ “The Next Chapter.”

Second.

My squash really are going to kill me.

Last year it was the tomato plant that went nuts.  This year it’s the squash.  I actually spent time whacking off leaves today because they’re choking out the eggplants, the cherry tomato and the Hungarian pepper.  Even the separate container of dill had to be rolled further away to escape the encroachment.  This damn stuff is working toward a manifest destiny in which all of Missouri is covered in patty pan squash.

I lament that I didn’t get a chance to post this earlier, or I’d run out and take photos of these beasts.  I may yet come back and update this with some visual aids.  I’ve helped out with a lot of squash plants in my life, but these are proving to be more….aggressive.  And I swear they really are headed closer to the back door every day….

On the upside, there were 3 ready to be harvested and tons more lurking on the way.  Normally I would have photographed these initial yields from the garden, but I was hungry, tired and lazy and opted just to sautee and eat them (yes, part of this hurry was out of a slight fear that they might eat me first).

So if you y’all don’t hear from me for a long period of time….call the police, tell them to bring glyphosate and be prepared to question the squash heavily.

Update:  I braved the plants to take the following.  Not sure I’ll try it again.  They’re now in cahoots with the mosquitoes.  I can’t win against that kind of power.

My hand trying to push back the encroaching squash plant. That’s not the largest leaf…

Weed

For those of you thinking that Cammy has taken a turn for the laid-back-but-munchie prone….

Please.

You know I’m about to talk gardening again.

Yeah.  So, I’m not really enough of a horticulturist to know one green sprout from the next.  And since the seeds I did plant this year I did NOT plant neatly, in rows, in easily identifiable locations, I’m having to experiment a bit.

All the little green things coming up in my garden beds?  They get a temporary stay of execution until they get big enough that I know what they are.  I keep hoping that some of these turn out to be the basil I planted from seed. So far I’m not winning that one.

This works out to some extent.

Until I realize the plants are crap I and get to spend excess time picking them out of the ground. Like today, when I played executioner to a number of plants that were clearly not basil.  It was like bloody Huntsville, Texas for green stuff out there.  I honestly don’t know where they all came from.  What the heck?!?!?

Summer Gardening – Year Two

For those of you who were not interested in my patio gardening exploits last summer, well, you should have said something when you had the chance.  Since you didn’t….

My plants are in the ground, slightly earlier than last year, I believe.  This year’s line up features a reprise of the rosa bianca egg plant after last year’s success.  Also representing the egg plant family is the satin beauty.  With no volunteer tomatoes in sight (and given the oddness of the ones last year), I went with a single Roma and a patio cherry.  And I triple checked that the cherry really is patio sized after last year’s cherry-tomato-that-devoured-the-Midwest debacle (unless, as was apparently the case last year, “patio” is defined as “taller than Cammy”).  The Hungarian wax pepper is also making a return–hello cheese-stuffed goodness!  And, of course, I couldn’t get rid of the chives if I tried (and in some spots I have…they’re insidious).

On a more advanced level, we’re stepping up to seeds this year.  I wanted squash, so, Mom suggested I just try from seeds.  So far there are little yellow-patty-pan seedlings coming up nicely.  Here’s hoping we can buck Mom’s trend of winding up with a powdery mildew that destroys them.  And I thought I’d give beans a shot–so I tossed a few pintos into the ground, and I think I saw signs of sprouting today.

All this ties in to my second attempt to be outdoors more this summer.  Last year wasn’t quite as successful as I’d have liked, but at least the gardening gave me something to force me out for at least a short time every evening.  I’m a bit concerned the real-life job thing might be more invasive this year than last, so it’s up to the squash, tomatoes and egg plant to ensure my fresh-air in take is not confined to the time spent walking between the door of a building and the door of my car.

Garden Planning

Despite the fact that we’re not entirely done with the whole ice and snow thing, I can tell that the end of the frozen days is coming.  So, for the first time since about October, I ventured out the back door onto the patio to survey the flowerbeds and ponder what to plant this year.

The whole garden thing actually went pretty well last year, up to the point where the over-abundance of cherry tomatoes led to me eating so many I wound up with an allergic rash.  Oops.  But aside from that, it was nice to have veggies just out the back door, and it was an activity that got me outside, in keeping with my attempt to spend time outdoors for the summer.

Last year I had chives (volunteer), onions (volunteer), tomatoes (volunteer, and the cherry tomato that tried to kill me), basil, egg plant and a Hungarian wax pepper.

It’s not too early to plan again.  I think we’re a go on the egg plant, basil and the pepper.  The tomato will have to be a smaller variety.  Squash is a possibility.  And beans.  If I knew for sure we’d have a summer as humid and hot as the last one, I’d go out for okra.  I killed my rosemary (again), so I’ll try that one (again).  My mint froze back, so that will go back into one of the pots (I would never, ever put it in the bed unless I wanted a flowerbed full of mint).  Mom’s had bad luck with cucumbers, but I might give them a shot.

Any other suggestions out there (other than bell pepper–yuck)?

 

*update: how did I manage to type “basic” instead of “basil” twice?  Corrected.

Black Thumb Chronicles

Okay, okay, what’s happened to my poor little herbs since we checked in:

Well, my rosemary plant died for no good reason.  I have replaced it with a new one which so far (knock on wood) is doing well.

One of my basil plants (the one that had previously been the largest and healthiest) did not survive the inch worms.  Bastards!

Sometime week before last I was horrified to discover aphids on one of the two remaining basil plants.  What’s with all these pests on indoor plants?  Annoyingly, there seem to be ladybugs everywhere but on my plants where there’s a feast laid out for them.  I was so busy that I very foolishly waited a day or two before I got the chance to mix up some garlic chili water to spray on the plants.  That may have been the death of that plant.  I’m holding out hope, but it’s a slim hope.  There’s a little green left in the stem, but it has lost all its leaves.

My final basil plant got aphids too, but I was able to I was able to stop the infestation earlier.  It’s looking a little ragged, but I’m marginally more optimistic about its chances of survival.

Meanwhile, we’ve been getting no sun.  I mean, ordinarily my apartment doesn’t get much, but at this point it’s a little ridiculous.  It’s been grey and cloudy every day.  My poor plants that are trying to recover their strength need sunlight!

It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!  The universe is conspiring to deny me fresh basil!  It’s not fair!

Inching Away with My Time

Okay, as promised, my war with the pests that were attacking my basil appears to be over (Victory is mine!), so here’s the tawdry tale:

I’ve been planning an update to my Black Thumb Chronicles.  Because so far all three basil plants and my new little rosemary plant were all alive.  Not just alive, but thriving.  For someone who hasn’t met a plant she couldn’t kill, this was very exciting.  Then several weeks ago I went to pick some basil for my cucumber lime sorbet and I noticed that a few of the leaves had little holes like something had been munching on them.  I made a mental note of it, but the damage was thus far minor, so I wasn’t super concerned.

Then a day or two later, I noticed that there were more holes and there were some sort of black specks all over some of the leaves.  Initially, I thought that the specks were the parasites in question.  Apparently I was wrong.  And I was mad because one of the benefits of house plants is supposed to be that they’re relatively safe from pests.  AI rushed to the interwebs to see what sort of information I could find on bugs that attack basil.  The closest I could find to something that fit what I was seeing was aphids, but these little black things seemed too small, even to be aphids.  Nonetheless, I looked for remedies.

Now there’s a big issue with pesticides—mostly that I’m only growing the basil so that I can eat it, so I don’t want to get anything toxic near it.  I read that cucumber peels had pesticidal properties, which was vexing because I had just thrown out a large amount of cucumber peelings a couple days earlier.  Then I read that you can get great results by crushing a couple of garlic cloves, soaking them in water for several hours, and then spraying the mixture on the plants.  At this point I was really annoyed because I was out of garlic.  Understand that I am never out of garlic.  This was probably the first time I’ve been without garlic in my apartment since 2004.  Finally I discovered a solution I had on hand—soaking chili peppers in water and spraying it on the plants.  So I filled an old spray bottle and went out to spray these little black specs off my plants.

I started meticulously spraying all these little black buggers off my plants and got a little curious.  I couldn’t see any of these black specs moving.  They were the strangest little bugs I’ve ever seen.  But I’m no bug expert, so what do I know?

The next day the black specs were back.  Hell, they were worse.  And the leaves were looking lacier by the moment.  I got my spray bottle and went to work again.  And then I saw something green fall into the dirt.  And I realized what was really going on.   It was an inchworm!  As best I can guess the black specs?  Inchworm poo.

You have to understand the depth of my hatred for inchworms.  Back when I was in middle school we had an unusually cold winter which evidently killed off something that eats inchworms in their larval stage.  This caused an over population of inchworms.  A disgusting overpopulation.  Our front porch was literally swarming with them.  My mom left a pair of sneakers on the porch and within a day you couldn’t even see them they were so covered in the little buggers. My parents’ house is surrounded by trees.  There’s no way to get in and out of the house without walking under at least a few.  I have long, thick, curly hair.  Picture me having to walk under all those trees, dripping with inchworms on my way to the bus stop every morning and ask me why I have such a virulent hatred of inchworms.

Getting them off my basil proved to be a pain in the ass.  The little creeps are the same exact color as the leaves.  And they hide underneath the leaves because they are, of course, creatures of darkness.  And they can hold on like nobody’s business.  I wound up just clipping off every leaf I found with an inch worm on it.  Then I took them outside, dropped them on the ground and did a victory dance on top of them.  Sneaky as they are, I didn’t get them all the first day.  Or the second day.  I thought I got them all on the third day, but then a couple days later?  More black specs.  Then I found two final inchworms.  Big ones I had initially mistaken for stems they had gorged themselves so thoroughly on my basil.

I took them outside and did one final victory dance on their evil segmented bodies.  And then the war was over.

My basil is still alive, but it’s looking much less healthy.  My rosemary is just fine because it seems inchworms don’t like rosemary.  And I won the war.  But it sucked away a lot of my time.

The Gardening Update

Odd fact:  rain is only good for a garden if it comes the right way.

In true Midwest fashion, our rain has been coming in the form of violent thunderstorms (although, even for the Midwest it’s been a bit odd in the timing–usually at this point in the summer we’re dry).  While the volume of water is greatly appreciated, the flow is a bit much.  Until about two weeks ago my cherry tomato plant was about 4 inches shy of being as tall as I am.

Then came “The Storm”

Yeah.  Massive straight-line wind from the outflow, followed by a deluge.  I may as well have aimed a fire hose at my plants.  My tomato plant went  completely parallel to the ground.  The two stakes and massive tomato cage were no match for the weather.  I found myself wrestling it back into an upright position, re-staking and trying to restore it to it’s former vertical glory.

It almost worked.  Until storm two.

The process repeated.

And then storm number 3.

Yeah.  It’s even money as to whether or not I’ll bother to continue this process.  That’s a lie.  I’ll totally keep at it because if I don’t keep it up off the ground, the oodles of little green tomatoes will be in easy bunny-rabbit reach and I can kiss them goodbye (little bastard has already picked clean the lowest part of the bush as well as everything on the smaller volunteer plants).

And thus continues Cammy’s summer gardening adventure (the only part of my great outdoor plan that’s going to survive this humidity).

Another Gardening First….

While my great plan to spend more time outside this summer has succumbed to abnormally humid weather and a job that has decided to become its own time vampire, I can now count another minor success for the season:

My first eggplant!

Cammy's first Rosa Bianca eggplant

I love eggplant.  It’s one of my top-10 favorite veggies.  Possibly even top-5.  With that kind of ranking, it made sense to try cultivating a plant or two in my patio garden.  I figured it wasn’t likely to pan out, but the spindly, sickly plants were reduced in price at the nursery, so I knew I would’t lose any more on trying to grow them than I would spend on buying two eggplants at the supermarket.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, something nabbed my first one before it actually came to fruition.  But this one has survived.  And there are 3 more that are a few days away from harvest.

I can also report that this one?  Was particularly nummy (lightly salted and sautéed in olive oil)