Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Midsummer 2016 Update

Wow, it’s been a while since my last update! We’ve had a somewhat unusual summer here in Western New York: very dry, windy, sunny and hot. Some of the plants, especially the peppers, citrus and eggplant, seem to love the heat and sun. Others, such as the kale and chard, can’t seem to resist bolting. Forget about cilantro. It goes from a seedling to a flower almost immediately this year! Overall though, the garden is doing pretty well. Here’s a run-down of what is happening out on the porch. 
Is this the year we get a lemon?

Tomato Varieties for 2016: Brandywine, Black Beauty, Cosmic Eclipse, Blue Berry, Green Zebra

The tomatoes are doing well, but we have had some blossom end rot due to the intense daytime heat. Not only has it been close to or over 90 degrees many days this summer, we are also on an upstairs porch in the city. The floor of our porch is a black tar-like sealant, which holds the heat very effectively. We cover it with a rug, but it still can get very hot. This means that the temperatures in our garden are typically 20-30 degrees warmer than the air temperature. On a sunny hot afternoon the temperatures can easily reach 115-120 degrees out there! The highest I’ve measured with a digital thermometer is about 125. 
Black Beauty tomatoes!
You might think that when it comes to tomatoes the hotter the weather the better, but I have found that prolonged intense heat can result in blossom end rot and poor setting of the tomato crop if the plants happen to be flowering when it’s that hot outside. The good part of the extra heat is that it extends our growing season well into October, so we have plenty of time to harvest a heavy crop of tomatoes and peppers!
Green Zebras make their triumphant return to the garden in 2016!
The fabric 15 gallon containers seem to be working well, and I definitely recommend them to anyone who might be on the fence about fabric vs. plastic. The tomato plants are noticeably taller this year than in previous years, and they also seem very sturdy and healthy. I will definitely be buying a few more fabric pots next year and gradually switching over to mostly fabric.

Blue Berry Tomato with flower 
Peppers Varieties for 2016: Jimmy Nardello (2015 plant), Corno del Torro Rosso, Corbaci, Black Hungarian, Jalapeno, Anaheim, Biggie Chili, Orange You Sweet, Melrose

After a slow start, the peppers have been coming on strong the past 3-4 weeks. The Padron peppers are probably the furthest along of this year’s plants, and have set many peppers already. The overwintered Jimmy Nardello is just awesome, and a good example of why overwintering a pepper plant and taking it into the next summer is worth your time and effort. We have been harvesting ripe peppers from this plant since just after Memorial Day!

Melrose peppers!
Most of the peppers are flowering and setting fruit now, so we should have some very nice harvests in August and into September. Unlike the tomatoes, the peppers seem to love the heat. As soon as it got blistering hot they started growing and flowering like crazy.

The 2015 Jimmy Nardello plant...back for its second act!
Eggplant Variety for 2016: Mitoyo Eggplant

This plant got off to a slow start, partially due to an aphid infestation that took several round of insecticidal soap to get rid of. After that, it grew quickly, and is now flowering, so hopefully we will soon have some fruit!
Mitoyo eggplant
New for 2016! Onions: Red and Candy

One of my experiments this year was growing onions. We had grown green onions last summer, but I also wanted to try bulbing onions. They grew very well in window boxes, but what did them in prematurely was the strong winds we have had seemingly every day this summer. Once they grew tall the wind kept bending them and breaking the stalks, which signals the plant to stop growing and focus on the bulb. As a result, we got somewhat smaller bulbs than we normally would have, but I’m happy with this as a first try. Next year I plan on giving them a windbreak so that they can grow to full size. Look for a full onion write up in the near future!

Red onion in a window box... the twine was an attempt to tie them up to a stake due to the wind
New for 2016! Ginger

I also wanted to try ginger this summer. We use it a lot, so it stood to reason that we should grow it as well, especially since it grows well in containers. I ended up ordering two ginger plants, which I received in late June. When you get a ginger plant it doesn’t look anything like what you buy in the store. It’s just a green plant with normal roots.

The middle stem was the original plant... Notice the lateral growth pattern
The part of the plant we eat is actually not the root of the plant at all but a rhizome. Think of a rhizome like a buried stem or stalk that grows horizontally under the soil, rather than vertically out of the soil. As the plant grows laterally it shoots up stems and leaves to collect sunlight. Then it spreads a bit more and the cycle continues. The part that we eat is actually the underground horizontal stem (rhizome), although I have read that you can also eat the leaves and the plant itself. I tried a little piece of the ginger leaf, and it does  taste like ginger, but it also has the texture of eating a large blade of grass, so I would stick to just eating the rhizome!


One of the best parts of having a garden is having an assortment of fresh herbs available for cooking. Every year I grow a ton of basil, oregano, and sage because we dry and preserve it for use all winter. We also have parsley, thyme, rosemary, dill, fennel, chives, and green onions in the garden. The thyme is over a year old now, and the rosemary is around 4 years old. Just bring them in once October comes and keep them as tasty and fragrant houseplants until the next spring!

This 4 year old rosemary is almost a shrub at this point!
 Cucumbers: Lemon, White, Straight 8, and Kiwano (Horned) Melon

As you can see, the cucumbers are growing very well in their 15 gallon fabric pot. The main issue is all the strong wind we’ve had, which kept tearing the vines down from their trellis. I eventually decided to just let them grow across the floor, and the plants have been happier for it. So far we’ve harvested two white cucumbers, and one jumbo-sized Straight 8, which was close to 10 inches long. I wouldn’t recommend letting them grow to that size though, because they can become a bit tough. As their name suggests, 7-8 inches is the perfect size for a Straight 8. Since all the cucumbers are mixed together in the pot, I’m not sure where the lemon cukes are, but we should see some lemon cucumbers soon.
The cucumbers are taking over! 
The Kiwano melon plant is very healthy, but still doesn’t seem to be flowering, so I’m not sure if it just needs to develop a bit more or if there is some nutrient deficiency. I’ll be sure to post a bit more about this as the summer goes on.

Kiwano plant... no flowers yet! 
Flowers: Many types of petunias, marigolds, and button zinnias

Button zinnia
Flowers not only add beauty to a garden, but they also attract bees, butterflies, and apparently goldfinches, which love the zinnia flowers. One reason I try to avoid any strong pesticides is that I want all the bees in the garden we can get. More bees=more fruit! As long as you are not allergic to bee stings you have nothing to fear if a bee buzzes around you while you are in the garden. I routinely have several around me while I’m working, and I have never been stung by a honey bee or bumblebee. Wasps are a different story, but they are typically not in the garden around the plants or flowers.

I recently found a great website for petunia seeds called Swallow Tail Garden Seeds.

The seeds are all pelleted, which means they have a coating on them that dissolves in water. The purpose of the coating is to make the seeds large enough to handle, as petunia seeds are tiny. The great thing about this site is that they have hundreds of types of petunias, so you’re sure to find unique varieties that you can’t get in your local garden center. Plus petunias are incredibly easy to grow. Just don’t bury the seeds, as they need light to germinate. Sprinkle them on top of the dirt and water with a mister. As soon as you water them the coating will dissolve and the seeds will sprout.

Espresso Frappe petunia

Eggplant flower

Button zinnia

Button zinnia

Daddy Mix petunia

Blue Star petunia
Citrus: Meyer Lemon and Persian Lime

This is the third year I’ve had the Meyer lemon tree, and it looks like this year we might get our first lemon harvest! Every year it has set dozens of small lemons, but they usually turn yellow and fall off when they are the size of a pencil eraser. Then the plant will flower and set more, but the same cycle repeats. However, this season I think the tree might be mature enough to produce, as evidenced by these large lemons that have made it through the summer so far.

Meyer lemon tree
The Persian lime is a plant I purchased last fall, so it’s a bit less mature than the lemon. I gave it a good pruning for shape early this summer, and it has responded with strong and healthy growth, so I’m hoping this winter it will flower for the first time. Right now the goal is to get a solid canopy and a strong root system.

View of one end of the garden

View from the floor of other end of the garden
Look for a more detailed citrus post in the near future as well for more on growing citrus in containers!

So far the summer is going well in the garden. We’ve harvested around 50 onions, although many of the candy onions were small. We have a lot of tomatoes and peppers on the plants, so over the next few weeks we should start seeing some ripening, especially with this heat.

Look for a few updates in the near future focusing on the onions and the citrus. Until next time, happy gardening!