A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘summer garden’

Vegetable Harvest

The vegetable garden is doing very well.  I am really pleased that I decided to put it on the opposite side of the house this year.  The amount of sunlight on that side makes all the difference.  This weekend, I harvested another couple of zucchini, a few squash and a few cucumbers.  I grilled the zucchini and squash with some fresh herbs, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.  The cucumbers were sliced and added to a spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette, candied pecans, grapes and carrots.   Here’s what I picked off on Sunday:

The rest of the vegetable garden is coming along nicely.  I have over a couple dozen tomatoes forming, and lots of bell peppers, habaneros and jalapenos as well.

The cantaloupe is really taking to the trellis I built a few weeks ago.  I already have a few fruit starting to form, too!

Zucchini (left) and tomato plant (right)

Zucchini, foreground, and cantaloupe on the trellis

Cantaloupe!

the melon is resting nicely on two pieces of nylon cord





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Baby Veggies

It is always exciting when our vegetable garden starts producing.  After a few failures in the past two summers due to pests, disease and/or uncooperative weather, it is encouraging to see the plants bursting forth with tiny veggies that will continue to grow into harvest-able crops. I’ll get to those mini-veggies in a minute, but first, BIG news.  Well, sort of.  The spring/summer garden offered up its first harvest over the weekend – a single zucchini measuring 9-inches long!  I am amazed at how fast zucchinis grow!  I literally watched it grow a few inches in a matter of two days and a few more are just a day or two behind it.  I think this one plant will provide enough zucchini for us to eat for a few months – and bigger than we’ve been able to get at the grocery store.  The first picture below was taken on Saturday.  I chose not to harvest it then because I wanted it to get an inch or two larger.

Then, on Sunday, I awoke to find the same zucchini had grown almost two inches to the size of a large dinner plate!

Well, that’s the big news.  Hey, I relish in good news, whatever it is!

Now for the mini-veggie photos!  We have tomatoes, habaneros, green bell peppers, cucumbers, yellow squash, jalapenos and what looks like cantaloupe starting to form!

baby cucumber (tied with nylon cord to tomato cage)

teeny jalapeno

small Early Girl tomatoes clustered together

healthy nub of a habanero pepper

tiny yellow squash (foil to deter vine borer)

beginning of bell pepper

could it be? a cantaloupe fruit?

All of these plants received a healthy watering on Saturday, followed by a 12 oz. cup of freshly brewed compost tea to top them off!  Here is the yeasty smelling, foamy, frothy mixture right before I served it up!

Trellising the Melons

The new garden bed, measuring 4’x8′ has run out of room.  As I thought would happen, the melon vines have monopolized the existing space in the garden, leaving nowhere to go but UP.  With a little bit of expediency this weekend, I fashioned a homemade trellis using 2×3’s and nylon cord.  Luckily, I planted right and put the melons on the south side of the bed.  By trellising the melon vines on the south side of the bed, I won’t be blocking any sunlight from the rest of the veggie plants.

The materials used consisted of two eight-foot sections of 2″x3″ boards, each cut into halves.  I staked the four four-foot sections into the ground a couple of inches, then screwed each into the side of the garden bed and, for good measure, reinforced each attached board with two galvanized steel braces.  I drilled a hole every eight inches or so up each four-foot section and ran nylon cord through each hole and pulled the cord taught before tying it off.

After the trellis was installed, I carefully tied the cantaloupe vines to the cords to begin training the vines up and through the trellis.  The watermelon (planted last) isn’t quite long enough to start training, but I attached cords to the vines to begin pulling them towards the trellis.  I imagine that within a week it will be creeping up through the cords alongside the cantaloupe.

I have lots of flowers so far and the bees have been very interested, so hopefully soon I’ll start seeing the first of the melons!

Looking West

Looking East

Looking South

The southeast corner of the veggie bed

Cantaloupe tied to trellis

Now hopefully we'll get some melons!

Beneficial Insect Files: Cicada Killer Wasp

During the hot summer months, usually towards the end of July and into the early part of August, we begin to see many large wasps in Central Texas. These wasps are pale yellow and black and resemble yellow jackets, only these are much bigger and scarier looking. In fact, they are the largest wasp species in Central Texas (growing over an inch long). Meet the Cicada Killer Wasp.

Unlike many of its cousins, the cicada killer is mostly non-aggressive and rarely stings.  Males may fly at you when you approach their burrows or nectar sources, but luckily, they are incapable of stinging.   Female cicada killers are reported to sting only if provoked, (i.e. handled or stepped on).  Instead of using their stingers to defend their nest and attack aggressors like most wasps, female cicada killers use their stingers only to do the function they are named for: killing cidadas.  Their sting, however, does not actually kill the cicada; it permanently paralyzes them (1).

Cicada killers go after those noisy, chattering (some call it singing, but I don’t!) adult cidadas that seem to swell in numbers towards the middle of the summer.  You can find their alien-looking shells (actually a molted exoskeleton) on the sides of trees in early to mid summer.   Once they molt, then they start making noise by vibrating their tymbal muscles, which produces loud clicks as two tymbal membranes pop in and pop out.  This sound, albeit a beautiful love song between courting cicadas, leads the cicada killer wasp right to them.  Once stung by the  cicada killer wasp, the cicada takes a permanent nap, while the female works on getting it back to its nest.

The cicada killer lives in burrows dug into soft dirt or sandy areas at ground level. In this burrow, a single wasp makes up to sixteen short tunnels or cells (2), just large enough to hold an adult cicada, all attached to the main passageway leading in and out of the burrow. The female wasp drags and carries her paralyzed victim any way she can all the way from the tops of the trees down to the ground and into the burrow. This is a strenuous activity as the adult cicada can be just as large as the wasp herself. Once in the burrow, the wasp tugs the cicada into one of the prepared cells, then deposits a single egg on to it. After this, the wasp seals the tunnel shut.

When the egg hatches and the wasp larvae emerges, it finds a quick and easy meal to hold it over until it is ready to emerge from the burrow as an adult. The lives of cicada killers are short as the adults do not overwinter. They live their life in a single season, capture cicadas and lay their young before expiring. The larvae emerge and overwinter in the prepared cicada tomb, feasting entirely on the cicada until they reach maturity and emerge the following spring.

Adult cicada killer wasps feed exclusively on flower nectar. As such, they are beneficial pollinators to a small degree, but are furthermore helpful in that they kill excessive cicada populations (3).

Did you know?

Cicada wasps are solitary, predatory wasps, though there may be several wasps living in close proximity to each other.

The female does all the work, from digging the burrow, to stinging and dragging the cicada back to the burrow, and from laying the eggs to sealing the cicada in. The sole purpose of the male is for mating.

Checking up on the Veggie Garden

I have been so fascinated with flower, bee and butterfly pictures for the past few weeks that I have not posted a vegetable garden update.  Before the rain moved in this week, I woke up early Wednesday morning and grabbed a bag of compost, a bag of bat guano, a bag of bone meal and headed out to the garden.   The pictures included in this post were taken Saturday morning.

One of the last pictures I posted of the veggies was of a newly forming yellow crookneck squash.  The plant soon died of neglect, I’m sad to say.  Now I have an empty spot and I’m debating whether or not to try another round, or go with a different variety altogether.  That same variety failed for me last year as well.

Meanwhile, the zucchini is doing well and has been flowering.  Maybe soon it will start producing.  There is no shortage of pollinators in the yard, though I wonder if they are too busy loving on all of the natives to come and pollinate my zucchini!   I went ahead and worked some compost into the soil, then sprinkled bat guano around the plant and watered lightly to let it absorb a little.  The rain did a better job at working it in anyway.  You can see the remaining Red Sail lettuce there next to the zucchini.  It looks beautiful and has a wonderful, glossy, deep red color.  Unfortunately, since weather has been so warm, it has turned bitter.  Yet, I think this shows how resistant this variety is to bolting.  We’ve had several days of ninety degree weather and it is still compact.    This weekend I will actually have to buy lettuce for the first time in six months.

The cucumbers have really started to vine out this past week, which is good because I was starting to worry about them.  I have since tied them to the tomato cage for support, which only seems to have encouraged them.  These, too, did not make it last fall, so I am wary of their success.   I do have my fingers crossed! I gave them more compost and a sprinkling of guano as well.

The Blue Lake bush beans are coming along and they are flowering like crazy and producing lots of green pods!   The Tendergreen variety didn’t survive all of the wind.  I had started them inside and they did get pretty leggy before I transplanted them.  Then all of the strong winds took their toll on their thin stalks.  I will be resowing more this weekend.  As with the other veggies, I applied a side-dressing of guano.

I pulled up the parsley and added it to the compost pile (first, however, I made sure there weren’t any black swallowtail caterpillars – there weren’t).  Then I pulled up the lettuce and worked the soil over really well, adding some bone meal, fresh compost and bat guano.  I’m not sure what I will plant there – quite possibly more tomatoes.  I thought about retrying squash in this location, so a butternut or another summer squash might be in the not-too-distant future.

The carrots are still forming, so I have left them.  I gave them a good fertilizing with bone meal, which is a good source of phosphorus for developing roots.  I hope to be harvesting some carrots within the next couple of weeks, but I think they should definitely be ready to pull up within a month.  I don’t know how long they will last into the warmer weather.

Also in the carrot bed are three tomato plants that are also now flowering.  I will continue to pinch those flowers until I’m happy with the sizes of the plants.  I want them to get bigger and bushier first.  To encourage that, I also gave them compost and a side-dressing of guano.

My pepper bed is coming along slowly.  The cooler nights still aren’t ideal.  They like the soil to be at least 70 degrees.  The larger jalapeno plants have been producing flowers and buds like crazy, but I’ve been pinching them off to encourage a bushier plant.  I went ahead and gave them all a good amount of fresh compost and applied guano around the base of each.

Check back later this weekend for an update on the flower beds and the development of the black swallowtail caterpillars of which I now have twelve on my fennel.

Indoor Sowing Dates for Veggies

It’s less than six weeks until the average last frost date here in the Austin area.   If you haven’t started your seeds yet, it may be time to do so if you plan to get a head start on the growing season.  Because Spring typically is short-lived before temperatures reach the nineties here in Austin, it is a good idea to start plants indoors and transplant them later.  Doing so will ensure a healthier plant and faster/longer harvest.

As a general guide, here are recommendations I found online regarding more popular types of veggies.  Below is the number of weeks seeds should be sown inside prior to transplanting into the garden.   As always, don’t forget to account for a few days of hardening off, and remember that plants cannot go out until all danger of frost has passed.  Some plants cannot go outside until the soil warms to 70 degrees.

Beans: direct sow, they grow too quickly

Broccoli/Cabbage/Cauliflower: 4-6 weeks

Carrots: direct sow, the taproot grows the most in first few weeks

Cucumbers: 4-5 weeks, no more than 5

Lettuce: direct sow or start 4 weeks before transplanting

Melons: 4 weeks at most

Peppers:  8 weeks – not until soil is 70 degrees (plan on April 1st)

Pumpkins/squash:  no more than 3-4 weeks.

Spinach:  6-8 weeks

Tomato: 5-6 weeks

The planting window closes for some of the cooler crops like carrots, spinach and lettuce within the month, so those should be started right away.  Spinach and lettuce transplants can probably still go into the ground through mid-March.

I’ve started broccoli, which I should be transplanting in two more weeks.  I also have one spinach (1 out of 6 germinated!) that I’ll transplant the first week of March.  I have more carrot seeds that I will direct sow this weekend in the space left behind by the carrots I harvested.  I have eighteen lettuce plants going and I’ll transplant them in the next two weeks as well.  I have also started a couple dozen pepper plants (habanero, jalapeno, cayenne and bell).  I’ll have to transplant them one or two times before they are permanently placed in the garden.

All of these times can be a somewhat daunting task to remember and keep straight.  This is why I record my sowing times and plan out the sowing schedule for the season ahead of time.  This is also one of the major reasons why I keep this blog, as a reference tool/chronicle of what I’ve done in the garden.