Thursday, July 30, 2009

City Critters

Ah to be naive.
When I first started my quest to produce veggies, flowers, and hopefully fruit in a little urban plot, I figured I would the worst I would have to contend with was a few unavoidable diseases, bad soil and maybe an occasional neighborhood cat passing through the yard. Boy was I wrong! Maybe it is our proximity to Fairmount park, a 9,200 acre park system that sprawls its way through Philadelphia (it has more land than the entire country of Monaco- 500 acres and Central Park- 843 acres! anyway...) and which our neighborhood is borderd on 2 sides by, about 3 blocks away one way and 6 blocks away the other way, besides the small parks and verdant university campus in between.
We have neighborhood cats. Every city seems to have them and they don't seem to cause too much trouble. They may even be keeping the squirrels and chipmunks from using my garden as a salad bar. I haven't figured out yet if a cat was knocking the birdbath over of if it was a opossum or 'coon. The opossums that pass through, which the dogs next door thoroughly enjoy harassing, were part of the reason that the fence needed repaired. On the plus side, one was kind enough to get himself into a bucket which he was too short to get back out of, and was promptly relocated by my dad a few blocks away down by the Schuykill river. One down 4 to go...(that we know of) Raccoons did kept a few of the mulberries from hitting the ground and stinking up the flower beds, of course the fact that they like to use my lettuce and snap pea bins as litter boxes kind of negated that fact, especially since all the seeds ended up in my flower beds anyway. Some bird mesh seems to be keeping that problem at bay. Despite the cats there are a few squirrels around, they like to plant peach pits in my pots in the fall. I'm not quite sure who's compost bin or trash can they are stealing them from... I have also found corn cobs, melon rinds and a few other choice bits of produce. Oh well, I just turn them in and make more compost out of them.
Some of the slightly odder things we have seen in the neighborhood include a turkey, waddling down the middle of the road just 2 blocks over. A pheasant, who knew they even still lived in the wild!? and a heron. That was really impressive, it was a great big blue one and flew over just about on my level, about 40' away while I was standing on the roof one evening. Must have been heading down to the river for dinner. We also get such a variety of song birds that I think I need to invest in a bird identifying book. So far I have seen cardinals, blue jays, robins, cackles, crows, sparrows, finches, wrens and mockingbirds! I think we also have a few woodpeckers in the neighborhood.
Sometimes I wish that I could take a picture kind of like and X-ray and have it reveal all of the animals living around us. It's amazing what living in a neighborhood surrounded by trees will hold, only to later let them wander through a supposedly wildlife free yard. And to think that I thought there was no wildlife in such an urban neighborhood!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

First of the season

Grape tomatoes so large they are like small plums and a plum so fat it might as well be an oxheart!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

This year's weather has been strange. I feel like we are living in Harry Potter's world and the dementors are causing a misty, cool weather to persist, despite it being the end of July. This past week the weather has improved a little though. It has been in the 80s and humid. We have also had a few thunderstorms, but nothing really that has resulted in a lot of rain.
Amy checked the plants for me while I was away. She did a wonderful job, I returned to a yard full of happy flowers and plants, I am glad that the garden decided to have a few goodies to offer her as she tended it for me. If you ever go away on vacation in the summer, be sure to enlist a trusted friend, preferably a gardener, to tend your plants while you are away, there is nothing worse than to come home to a yard full of desperately thirsty tomatoes and flowers!
The roof has been a great climate for the peppers and tomatoes. Both enjoy full sun and lots of warmth, something a flat roof excels at providing, especially one like ours that does not have any trees overhanging it, and too think that the excessive heat on roofs is a problem for some people, I say put tomatoes on everybodies' roofs! Anyway, plants that get the correct amount of sunshine tend to be fairly compact, those that don't, get tall and leggy, kind of like in the greenhouse when you can tell your seedlings aren't getting enough because they are leggy and scrawny. You don't have to look closely to see that all of the tomatoes and peppers are compact little plants. Granted, they were all chosen for their compact nature, but I had one left over that I planted down below. It is twice as tall and has half as many leaves!
The weather still has managed to cause some troubles. Some of the tomatoes have suffered blossom end rot. This ugly malady, luckily, should be fairly easy to remedy, or at least partially counteract. It is caused by big fluctuations in temperature and big fluctuations in soil moisture levels. It is also exacerbated by a lack of calcium available to the tomato plants. So, I gave all the plants a handful of slow release fertilizer (it's the middle of summer and everything is due for a snack anyway), I am being more careful that the plants have water on the hottest of days, and I will be giving them each a handful of crushed egg shells to help increase their calcium. Here's hoping it works because I am really getting hungry for good tomatoes!
The peppers have already given several tasty treats. We have had a few mild banana pepper like ones, and one which I found out the hard way, which had a little kick to it. My mom did warn me when she gave them to me that one of them was hot. Next year I'll take better care in labelling everything. I always think I will remember, but clearly that i not the case!
The paprika style ones are getting big. They are a pretty creamy color and stand out nicely against the dark green leaves. I can't wait until they start to ripen!
I thought that by this time of the summer I wouldn't need to worry about the bird netting any more. One night of having forgotten to tie it back closed as show that that is not the case. No major harm done, but one of the peppers on the end looks like somebody tried to land on it for a rest.
Maybe next week's post will include a picture of a blushing tomato!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekly update

As I am sure you have all noticed, I have been slacking. First it was a week spent hiking the trails and mountains of New Hampshire with evenings spent in the hot tub watching the sun go down or snuggled on a couch in front of the fire, reading with my hubby. Then I just got lazy. But I'm back!!! What an eventful time my garden had while I was away!
First off, as you can see from the picture, it is not the nasturtiums that are trying to take over the world, now its the squash. And mine seem to be being as promiscuous as Amy's are. I thought I had planted several yellow squash and several pattypan squash. I just found baby pattypans today. All the other ones seem to be green though.... Oh well, I like green squash just as much. Though I'm not actually sure if it is still considered squash, or if now I'm supposed to call it zucchini. I'll have to look up what the distinction is. Next year though I am only going to put in 2 or 3 squash plants. I need room for my cucumbers! (of course I say that, and yet somehow I will end up with just as many next year... I wonder where I will squeeze in the cukes!)
The nasturtiums have suffered a little bit in the heat, but I'm keeping them clipped back and I am guessing that they will continue for the summer, and as it goes back to being cool, will flourish again. They are still putting out enough flowers that with the butterfly bush I can keep a vase of flowers on the counter most days, that is if the cats don't decide that I put the flowers there solely for their entertainment and enjoyment while we are at work.
I had to pull a few things out. As I was saying, the squash are trying to take over, so I had to replant all the flowers that I had carefully put in their second little bed, in front of the main bed so they wouldn't get squished out. Oh well, now I know that when I build my raised beds that there will have to be a low section in the back so the beans can have as much climbing room as possible, a high section in the middle so the squash have a place of their own, and a low bed in the front so the flowers can still shine.
The flowers didn't go to waste though. I moved them over to the pots and beds that I had pulled lettuce out of. The plants had given me 2 good months of fresh lettuce daily, and it is my own fault that I didn't keep up with my succession plantings so I could be eating it all summer. My chard is still doing okay, so I will have to enjoy that for a few weeks while I wait for more lettuce to come up.
In addition to having had squash for dinner a few nights now, we had a handful of green beans. YUM. Right now I am getting Vortex beans. One of my mom's contributions. They're great. They grow about 6" long so you have less ends to snap in order to get enough for dinner (if you don't know how to snap green beans you are forbidden to be a gardener...) The other kind I planted have the pretty pink/coral blooms that the package promised. I need to put a few more seeds of each in and we'll be eating those well into the fall as well.
We have also had lots of peppers. I either chop them up and throw them on salads, or saute them with some onions and use them as quesadilla filling. Soon I'll be making fresh salsa from my own tomatoes to put on top!
So far, so good. I'm going to have to figure out how to make things a little more productive if I plan to get a family's worth of veggies out of the garden, but for being only the 3rd year, I'm really happy with production. Now that it is finally warm maybe we will be getting enough produce that I will only need to be getting fruit at the market!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

promisuous pumpkins

So one day a lovely pumpkin

and an attractive, supposed to be dark green, summer squash
got together though their mutual friends the bees
and made:

Almost white summer squash...they taste good at least.


Finally got a compost bin. Thank you Dad!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

low tech

So when watering the garden this week I came across a problem. I let the little pots hanging on the fence dry out too much. I know I just said the other day that too much water is a bad thing, but too little is bad too. In containers you have to be especially careful. Since there is so little dirt, and often there are holes in the bottom so they don't collect too much water when it rains, they dry out really fast. Well, the poor little flowers were begging for water. And when I pushed my finger into the dirt, I discovered just how dry they were. They were at the point where all the dirt clumps into one big spongy lump, and they were getting wimpy because of it.

Anyway... when I tried to water them with the watering can, the water bypassed the dirt and went right back out of the holes in the bottom. I tried to water more slowly, but that just made my arms tired, holding the full watering can above should height. I had to figure out a way to make the water drip slowly into the soil so it could loosen the dirt and soak in. And I didn't really want to dig the drip hose out.

I'm not exactly sure how it dawned on me, but ice cubes came to mind. I threw a generous handful in each pot.

I'll let you know if the flowers perk up.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

WOW! I can say that I can't think of anything that would make me happier about my first attempt at roof top gardening. Even the wimpiest tomato and pepper plants are strong and healthy. All the plants that were good sized when they went up have baby fruits on them (yes, they are both fruits, of course, many things that most people would call vegetables are fruits. It's all scientific terms vs. everyday language and fruit or vegetable can actually vary from culture to culture depending on how the produce is eaten- sweet vs. savory. Check out Wikipedia- or you could search a more technical site if you wish)

I know it is still kind of early in the season, but we also seem to have planned well for the roof. None of them have out grown the bird netting cage yet and the potting soil seems to be holding moisture well. I have only had to water twice! As it gets even warmer though I think I'll be watering every other day. This is a good time to talk about watering. DON'T OVER DO IT! Yes, plants need water, but if they are constantly sitting in water, or even in damp soil, they never put deep roots. No deep roots means they don't hold up well to wind, they don't have lots of little roots to pull nutrients out of the soil, and they are susceptible to more diseases since they never get really established.
YAY!! baby tomatoes basking in the setting sun! can't wait till those little buggers are ripe!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Weekly update

4th of July already! (well, now the 6th) The garden is exploding with all the warm, finally dry, weather. The nasturtiums are still producing flowers like crazy. The butterfly bush is putting out pretty purple flowers. The beans have made it up to the bottom of their dream catcher, their pretty peachy blossoms are giving me a treat for the eyes while my tummy waits its turn! I have had plenty of mint for mojitos, basil for tomato sauce and oregano to start drying for the winter. And of course parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Sometimes I just can't resist pulling a few leaves off for a whiff of these lovely smells.

Herbs are a great thing for a city gardener, or anybody with limited time or space. With just a few pots on a window sill, in a window box or on a patio, a family could have enough herbs for pesto, mojitos, pizza sauce and garnishes all summer, and if done correctly, all winter too! Sage is a tender perennial and survives Philadelphia winters with just a little help, so I tend to plant it right in the garden. Most of the others are annuals, and so I plant them in pots and bring them in for the winter. When they start to look sad or extremely leggy, I add another seed or two to the pot so a baby plant can fill in behind it.
Finally, the squash have baby squash on them! There is one in a pot on the tiers that is about 4" long, throughout the rest of the garden they range from 2" to flowers. I am hoping to be eating those when I get back from New Hampshire!

Oh, and my lilies bloomed!

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.... just wanted to make sure the song was stuck in everybody's head!