A Tramp in the (Organic) Garden

Seeds, Smack Talk and Assorted Gardening Madness in South Pasadena, Los Angeles

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Freaking Nematodes

Nematodes, I curse thee, I cuuuuuuuuuurse thee! I have freaking root-knot nematodes in my backyard..... Deep sigh. I always nematodes were something that happened to other people- not me! It feels like my garden has VD and all the antibiotics in the world can't get rid of it.

I first noticed it on the EARLY FRAME PRESCOTT MELONS and then my KENTUCKY BEEFSTEAK and NYAGOUS TOMATOES, when I pulled out these non productive and sickly plants and examined their roots- knobbly, distorted and ridden with galls. I was horrified. Plants afflicted by parasitic nematodes often show above soil signs of poor health, drought stress and lackluster nutrition- yellowed leaves, sign of wilting. It's only when you pluck them from the soil and have a look at their roots that you can make out the true cause of their demise. Parasitic nematodes are actually microscopic "eel-like" worms that parasitize the roots of plants, reducing it's ability to intake water and nutrients from the soil, the most common type being the "root-knot" nematode. Don't get me wrong, some nematodes are beneficial- feeding on bacteria and fungi that can be detrimental to a plant. Unfortunately, the bastards that got my tomatoes and melons are not...

How to deal with it? Drown your sorrows in a good Chateauneuf Du Pape! No. alas, that's only temporary. 1-Grow nematode resistant veggies and plants. 2- Solarize your beds during the summer months. 3- Plants crops that nematodes cannot feed on, and supposedly the populations will decline. Certain cover crops, por exemplo. 4- Add organic matter to your soil, to help your plants increase resistance and remain healthy in spite of these bastardos. An organic matter rich soil will help hold water and nutrients, decreasing plant stress. 5- When you pull up the plant, remove all and any roots so nematodes cannot continue to reproduce and feed. 6-Till the soil as much as possible to expose the nematodes to the drying sunlight. 7- Planting African (Tagetes erecta) and French (T. patula) marigolds and tilling them into the soil when they have grown can help reduce populations. The roots contain chemicals that suppress those suckers. You have to plant a lot of marigolds for a couple of seasons to see a difference. Some effective varieties to look for are Tagetes patula 'Nemagold,' 'Petite Blanc,' and 'Queen Sophia'.

May the force be with us.

PS- Nematodes are most active during warmer weather and may not affect cool season crops as much- they cannot penetrate roots at soil temps below 64 degrees. Take that! The most commonly afflicted veggies are Solanaceous- tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, Cucurbits such as melons, squashes and cucumbers. Also, beans, peas, and carrots.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Show Must Go On: California Cool Weather Crops

I declare this summer's crops a complete and total wash. Deep sigh. Raccoons, squirrels, and possums feasting on my peppers (even some jalapeños), figs and tomatoes. Like 5 cucumbers, 3 eggplant, some tomatoes, figs, beans, and herbs were harvested but in far fewer quantities than I would have expected or that my gardening ego demands. Not one night spent inbibing mojitos in the garden. No giddy harvests shared with friends, and few just picked tomatoes added to salads or eaten with sea salt. But je ne regrette rien. Soon it will be fall and soon spring after that. The show must go on!

But, Southern Californians, did you think just because it's starting to be the end of the summer that you can just rip out your tomato plants and call it a day until spring? I don't think so, my friend! It's time to start planting your seeds for fall. This is tough love right here. In Southern California, our fall and winter is comparable to early spring for you East Coasters. While you are putting the garden to sleep, or getting in a quick fall crop. we are preparing for a whole other season- cool crops like LETTUCE, ENDIVE, ARUGULA, MUSTARD, KALE, CABBAGE, CAULIFLOWER, BRUSSEL SPROUTS, BROCOLLI, GARLIC, ONIONS, LEEKS, SHALLOTS, SWEET PEA FLOWERS, PEAS, POPPIES, PANSIES, SWISS CHARD, SPINACH, CARROTS, CILANTRO, PARSLEY, CHERVIL, CELERY AND RADISHES are all great to grow in this easy, rainy season. I refuse to let Southern Californians lay about during the winter, drinking red wine by the fire and listening to moody music. Put on a sweater and go plant some lettuce for the love of Mary! (It's so easy). I insist. Please. This will be the year that you grow your first head of lettuce and cry when you bite into that juicy leaf that you grew from seed yourself. You have been annointed by the earth, baby- why stop now? Plant like you mean it!

I started a few seeds this past weekend, but here's my Winter Seedplan:

OPIUM POPPIES- It just seems like a good place to start, you know? Start off the season with a bang- a flower that gets you on an FBI list. Too bad I lost the seeds I ordered, I'll have to find more. I envision double flowered, peony type flowers. Hot pink, of course.

ORIENTAL POPPIES- These are for the front of the house, a terraced yard that I'll be working on with my neighbor this fall. I've been making little lavender and succulent cuttings to plant there this fall. These poppies are perennials that favor cool weather. This is a multicolored seed pack, which I normally don't like, but whatever. I plan to start both types of poppy seeds in peat pots, because poppies don't like to have their roots disturbed.

'MISS WILLMOTT' SWEET PEAS- This flower is supposed to be an orangey pink. An heirloom from the early 1900's, and it was named after garden writer Ellen Willmott. The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens says "Miss Ellen Willmott, a great plantswoman of the same era, dwindled away a fortune largely owing to her gardening obsession. When she outgrew her 50 acres in Essex, she bought a French château and an Italian villa to plant up, at one point employing more than 80 gardeners. Imperious and autocratic, she would blow her stack over the presence of a single weed in the garden or the discovery that the bloom time of one of her plants had been imprecisely documented. Her descent into bankruptcy never interfered with her purchase of any rare plant she coveted." My kind of gal, hell yeah!

'FRENCH BREAKFAST' RADISHES- These are so easy and quick and have been grown since the 1700s. If you have a little space, grow some radishes. They are also incredibly beautiful. I saw these at Pavillions for 5 bucks a bunch! I was outraged.

'BOWLES BLACK' VIOLAS- I've had these seeds for a year. They'll add a nice dark gothic bass note to my plantings.

CIPOLLINI ONIONS- I've never grown onions. Let's see what happens.

FIVE COLOR SWISS CHARD- Similar to the BRIGHT LIGHTS SWISS CHARD mixture. I've always wanted to grow these. I can weed out the colors I don't want. They look really gorgeous backlit by the sun.

CROSBY EGYPTIAN BEETS- A friend gave these seeds to me. I love beets, they are so good for you. But be careful if you juice them- my husband got a strong juice of beets and apples that had him barfing in the parking lot of a gas station. Too much nutrition at once is No Bueno.

MCGREGOR's FAVORITE BEETS- These have gorgeous purple leaves, but a low germination rate. Let's check 'em out.

ROSSA DI CHIOGGIA RADICCHIO- This is a heading type radicchio, and you don't have to blanch them.

GREEN CURLED RUFFEC ENDIVE- I love frisée. This one you just tie up to blanch 'em.

BATAVIAN LETTUCE- I think this is really a type of endive/chicory, and I got the seeds in Switzerland, smuggling the seeds past customs. Phew! I make a fantastic international garden criminal! Yay, me!

ICEBERG LETTUCE- Who knew I'd one day grow iceberg lettuce? Got these seeds in Swizzera. Smuggled lots of seeds through customs, though I will deny it. I'm a sucker for a crisp iceberg lettuce with a creamy blue cheese dressing. It reminds me of going to Bob's Big Boy when I was a kid.

MASCARA LETTUCE- A frilly oak shaped leaf that holds it's color in warm weather. I love growing lettuce- so simple and pure.

FORELLENSCHLUSS LETTUCE- on old speckled Austrian heirloom romaine lettuce. Speaking of Austrian lettuceheads-isn't it crazy that Arnold Schwarzenegger is our governor? I mean, would you have ever imagined? Ggggrrrr. "California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger apologised on Friday for remarks saying Puerto Ricans and Cubans were hot headed because of their mix of black and Latino blood. The remarks were caught on tape and released to the Los Angeles Times which published them Friday. The controversial comments threatened to overshadow the former movie star's bid for reelection as a Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state. He said "I mean Cuban, Puerto-Rican, they are all very hot, they have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it" Dude, what the f**k?

Other than that, I'll also be growing the usual MESCLUN MIXES, PARSLEY, CHERVIL, CILANTRO, ARUGULA, MORE PANSIES AND LETTUCES I pick up from the nursery on a whim.

Ciao, babies!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tracy Powell: My Favorite Photographer

This weekend, I'm so pleased, my favorite photographer to emerge this decade, Tracy Powell is having a show at Bergamot Station. I've been a fan and following her work for quite some time- I think I met her once at a party, an introspective, yet rowdy type. I think she said she was a Sagittarius-and if I'm not mistaken I think that's her on the lower right side of the LA Weekly cover. Anyway, the show promises to be good, with many other talents as well. The show is at Bergamot Station complex. 2525 Michigan Avenue, Bldg C-1 Santa Monica, CA 90404 at the Track 16 Gallery.

So they say in the LA Weekly :

" The influence of Catherine Opie on the young photographers of UCLA is visible most notably in a conscientious attention to place. Tracy Powell, one of the most accomplished of those photographers, describes her own project in abstract terms — as an exploration of “the sublime space between where nature begins and civilization ends” — but it is the quality of this attention that distinguishes the work, anchoring her poetic instinct in concrete terms: in the subtle reflections on the surface of water, the entanglement of trees and sky, and the geometry of local architecture.

A child of the military, Powell moved frequently while growing up and sees her work now reflecting that experience of constant exploration. “My photographs are about moments found in the midst of journeys,” she says. “There is no distinct separation between bodies of work, no matter where the photographs originated.” Given the sheer beauty of these locales, with their glassy lakes and cloud-skirted hills, it’s an enviable job, this journeying. But photographs of this caliber may the next best thing. And in some ways, they’re even better."

PS-Hopefully, it's okay to use this photograph and she won't kick my a** in a dark alley one day.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Big Bad Spiders and Mud Dauber Nests

What looks like a mud dauber nest...they are solitary wasps. The females rool mud into a ball, and mold it with their mandibles to form a nest. After the nest is done, the female captures spiders or other tasty edibles to leave in the nest with the eggs. When the larvae hatch they have a hearty breakfast to sustain them. Wait, this is a mud dauber nest, isn't it? Gulp. (We found this on the door frame of our side door)

This is a Black and Yellow Argiope aurantia orb weaving spider. My husband found this on the basil and fern leaf lavender plants tonight when he was gathering some leaves for a pesto. MMM. Delicious Argiope spider pesto. From head to toes, this bad mamma was about 2 inches. Yowza! They are carnivorous and feed on aphids, flies, grasshoppers, wasps, and bees.

PS- There has been this abundance of spiders and insects in the garden this year....I always feel like our backyard is this wilderness that wants to return to it's natural, wild state. Spiders come and go, pine needles litter the ground, ants build their nests regardless of knowing this is my cultivated raised bed designated exclusively for vegetables and flowers, possums plunder, a clay soil goes from flat and controlled to rolling and unruly. But is that really so bad? It just reminds me to sit back sometimes and just observe the show...maybe sometimes you can learn a lot more that way if you just sit the f**k down and shut the f**k up.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Summer 2006 - It's A Wrap, People

Every spring season starts out with so much hope and anticipation- the glorious harvests, the orgies of tomatoes, the idea that somehow THIS year will be the year when everything goes right, nothing succumbs to pests and diseases, and everything will flourish in abundance. Seeds will be started on time, transplanted in time, everything will be done in a timely fashion. That's how I felt when I started this seasons little crops. Alas, the results were not always what I expected....

Tomatoes- pictured above as seedlings:
GREEN GRAPE and ISIS CANDY- Unfortunately these were eaten by eaten by ground termites and replaced with SUNGOLD and SWEET 100 hybrids from the nursery. The replacements have a fusarium wilt, but are holding on and producing a small crop of cherry tomatoes. I hope they ripen up before the wilt gets 'em or the critters do.

KENTUCKY BEEFSTEAK- I was kind of looking forward to this orange beefsteak tomato, but unfortunately I remembered too late that I planted it in an area that had sunflowers last year. Sunflowers are allelopathic, and the beefsteak flourished briefly then just sort of sucked. It currently has a fusarium wilt, and I have to get rid of that sucker.

ANANAS NOIRE/BLACK PINEAPPLE- This is my favorite tomato this year. Because it's really the only heirloom tomato I got to eat before they attack of the tomato killers. But it was actually really good. The animals thought so, too, though I managed to save most of them. But of course, the hugest one, which was like 6.5 inches was chomped on. They shall rue the day. They shall rue the day...

NYAGOUS-I can't really say I know what happened with this tom. It was doing fine, then it dropped a lot of blossoms during our intense summer heat, but managed to produce one. Which got eaten by an animal. Bummer man, I really love black tomatoes.

BLACK KRIM-This one is in my front yard, transplanted during intense heat (a no-no), but it's doing fine, and I'm waiting for tomatoes. I looooove black tomatoes.

BRANDY BOY- I got this off of Craig's list. Another tomato obsessed person was giving away little seedlings, and was kind enough to drop one by. It was 2 inches tall- I grew it and gave it to my neighbor, even though I had planned to put it in the frony yard and have a little tomato farm. Alas, that did not happen...

Lettuces- little baby sproutlings pictured above:
MIGNONETTE BRONZE and CIMARRON- Hmmm. Let me tell you now that I'm not perfect. I started them in cell packs from seed...and kind of lost interest when it got hot...Lettuce is much better grown in the winter, in my opinion.

CHINESE RED NOODLE BEANS- I will grow this one again next year. And I want everyone else to grow it, too!

CHEROKEE TRAIL OF TEARS- The rest of the seeds in the pack will be given to friends as a faux act of kindness. But I will shuck the pods I've grown and make a soup with the beans.

PURPLE JALAPENOS- My transplants perished due to cheap a** potting soil. I managed to save one plant and grew it in a pot, but then the raccoons or possums or whatever the hell they were ate my jalapeños. And I was so looking forward to these, too...next year. Deep sigh.

LEMON CUCUMBERS--(pictured above at left) I did manage to get a few, and they are delish, if a bit seedy. I'm tired of these, so next year I'll probably grow Persian or Armenian cucumbers, those wonderful sweet ones that you get at Jons Supermarket. They are scrumptilicious with French Feta and lavash for a quick summer snack.

EARLY FRAME PRESCOTT MELONS- I'm really not good with cucurbits..this melon story ended in them growing a couple feet, being attacked by aphids. I ripped them out this week, and noticed the presence of nematodes. Chin up! I will try again next year.

EGGPLANT- The transplants were given to me by my friend's father-in-law, and avid gardener. I gave one plant away, but got three eggplants from this shrub. They are beautiful plants when healthy...and they usually make my tongue itch, but these were so fresh and spectacular.

Though this season was basically a complete wash- the good news is that I've found some new gardening music: Eagles of Death Metal 'Death By Sexy' and Daniel Persson Awwwwww, yeah!

Fig Massacre Part 3: Mafia Possum Suspected

Suspect seen fleeing the scene, but not apprehended.

He left a little mafioso warning behind...

Paws up against the wall, buddy!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Fig Massacre Part 2

This year a serial fig plunderer has hit our home. I awoke to this bloody scene this morning- the fig's entrails ripped out ruthlessly, left hanging, left for dead...

(But you have to tilt your head to the right to see it the correct way- for some reason it won't show up on my desktop flipped)

Juicy Tomatoes of the World Unite

This spring I grew a whole bunch of heirloom tomato plants from seed and gave them away to people near and dear. A summer later, this is their story:

Ilga: These ANANAS NOIRE tomatoes were grown in a fire escape of an historical building in Hollywood. Gorgeous!

Amy's tomaters are the juiciest tomatoes I've ever seen. Oye, mamita! From South Pasadena.

Mindy and Eric's tomato structure In Highland Park looks so beautiful- I love that he built it for her. It's like the gardening equivalent of giving diamonds. Chivalry is not dead, friends. Very gentlemanly...They are growing a variety of tomatoes this year.

Natasha's HILLBILLY in South Pasadena with Cheryl the Rooster in the background guarding the plants. We couldn't figure out why these hadn't produced anything this year, until...Natasha revealed that she had grown corn (a heavy feeder) in the exact same spot the year before, which most likely has something to do with it. Cheryl and Mindy also had problems with their HILLBILLYS, though, too. Interesting....

Kirsten's toms- an ANANAS NOIRE can grow in Downtown LA. Go, tomato, go!

Elea's various maters scramble all over a trellis in South Pas- I dig the velvet pillows. Shouts to AD for the photo.

Tiana's BLACK BRANDYWINE in Ventura county benefit from a marine breeze- here with Swiss chard in the background:

Cheryl's grow between a rock and a hard place in Altadena-from left- KENTUCKY BEEFSTEAK, HILLBILLY, AND BLACK KRIM:

Beth made a sweet PATIO ORANGE tomato still life with a note on my desk at work one morning- I was very surprised these were red, and not orange. Whassup with that, world?

Lila's ripening ANANAS NOIRE in Los Feliz looks beaut even when green:

Maria in Canyon Country has produced some delicious ISIS CANDY- here with bonus still life with roses from her garden:

My own juicy ANANAS NOIRE- the critters didn't get this baby!

This years tomato growing season has been exciting, even dangerous at times (well, not really, I'm just being dramatic) - next year I vow to do things differently. I WILL start my seeds earlier and cover them with little plastic cloches. I WILL spray the seedlings with seaweed emulsion every 2 weeks. I WILL choose only the most hearty, disease resistant, heaviest producing tomatoes. I WILL disseminate tomatoes to people in a timely fashion with a copy of planting instructions. And I WILL not forget any of these things come spring!

Peace out, tomatoes and tomato growing peoples- it's been fun- until next year! Thank you so much for participating in my tomato madness and providing photos of your beautiful babies...

I hope it was a great adventure for all,

Your humble Garden Tramp

PS-ANANAS NOIRE seemed to be the superstar this year, producing earlier than others, and more reliably. The plants seemed vigorous. The flesh looks amazing when cut, is delicious and low in acid. I would grow them again next year. For some REAL tomato reviews, check out Hanna's Tomato Tastings 2006, they are the bomb.