Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tomato Beavers

What's a tomato beaver you ask?  It's a mysterious and seldom seen creature.  It comes in the dead of night when you least expect it and fells tomato plants like a lumberjack downs a towering pine.  Of course, I'm joking.  There's really no such thing as a tomato beaver, but my poor tomato was gnawed on by something.

The unfortunate victim was a Celebrity tomato cut down in it's prime.  The plant was perfectly healthy when I checked on it yesterday.  It was as big as it's sister plant, Early Goliath, pictured below.

So, what would do this kind of damage?  The most likely culprit is a cutworm.  I have seen more cutworms in the garden this year than usual.  The cutworms I generally see are a smooth worm of about an inch or more.  They are usually dark colored, with long stripes traveling the length of their bodies.  When you hold a cutworm in your hand, they naturally curl themselves up.

Cutworms normally attack smaller seedlings with tender stems.  I really thought my tomatoes were large enough to be past the stage when cutworm damage would occur.  The stems on my plants are starting to get woody and the plants are already setting fruit.  I guess when you're a hungry cutworm, you'll take what you can get.  Here are some pictures of some of my first tomatoes.

I searched the soil surrounding the plant looking for the cutworm without any luck.  While searching the remainder of the bed I did find another cutworm, but I'm pretty sure it was too small to be the worm the killed my tomato.  Still, it's a cutworm, so it was immediately sentenced to death by chicken. 

To protect my tomatoes tonight, I wrapped the bottom of the tomato stems with foil.  This is just a temporary measure.  Hopefully, the foil will provide enough protection to save the plants from further damage.  

As for the dead plant, well, I guess tomorrow I'll be visiting my local nursery for a replacement.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Neighborhood Wildflower Walk

Lately my husband and I have been skipping the gym in favor of our new exercise program. We're calling it the "Walk N Weed".  Two miles around our neighborhood, followed by 1 hour in the yard weeding or doing other needed garden tasks.

Tonight on our walk I noticed the wildflowers looked particularly spectacular, so I made a quick dash home for my camera.  When I look at scenes like these, I wish I could paint.  

This field looks like it is predominately Indian Paintbrush until you look closer and see the Wine Cup, Pink Evening Primrose, and Spiderwort.

At home, I'm forever pulling out Wild Onions. The white flowers are pretty, but the plants pop up everywhere driving me crazy.  Here in this curbside setting, they work with these Bluebonnets and Spiderwort.

Here's an interesting tidbit about Bluebonnets that you may not know.  Bluebonnets that have not been pollinated have a white center.  After pollination the center turns red signally bees to move on to a different flower.  See if you can pick out the red and white centers in the closeups below.

There are so many beautiful wildflowers, but here's one of my top 10.  I've always known it by the common name, False Indigo, Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea.  I've also heard it called Ground Wisteria, which is probably due to the clusters of flowers which hang on the plant pulling it downward.  Most of these plants have finished blooming, but I found a few stragglers to share with you.

Cream False Indigo is a member of the pea family.  The plants are well-rounded and bushy, measuring about 1-2 feet tall.  The bumble bees love them and I do too.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Veggie Garden Transition

Space is my greatest challenge when transitioning from the fall/winter to the spring/summer veggie garden. Many of the veggies I planted in the fall are still productive and spring plantings of onions and potatoes won't be harvested until May.  The majority of my garden space is still in use, so it's time for the hard choices of what goes and what stays.

I need space for the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and green beans that I want to plant, so I need to take a hard look at the best candidates for removal.  While I find some space and prepare the garden beds, tomato, pepper and basil transplants wait in 1 gallon pots in the greenhouse.

Some removal decisions are easy.  The broccoli, which started flowering when temperatures warmed up, was bee food and then chicken food.  I cut down the plants one by one and fed them to the girls who really seemed to enjoy them.

I have 4 heads of cabbage left, 2 red and 2 green.  I grew extra cabbage for the chickens, because they love it so much.  When one of the green cabbage heads split, it was easy to decide, which one was going to the girls.  The remaining head of green cabbage and the 2 red will go into the fridge assuming I can find space.

These English peas will stay, but some surprise 'wormy' visitors have taken over my lettuce.  I could treat for caterpillars with BT, but in this heat, it won't be long before the lettuce bolts and gets bitter.  It's probably best to give it to the chickens.  Wow, I'm sensing a trend here.  Those chickens are going to be eating good.

I really hate to say goodbye to this Salad Bowl leaf lettuce.  The greens have been some of the most tender lettuces I can remember.  

I can definitely harvest the last of the spinach, beets and radishes.  The beets will make a nice side dish and the spinach and radishes will go into salads. 

The kale is a bit of dilemma.  Most of it looks pretty good, except this one plant that has decided to bolt.  I guess I'll be making a lot of kale chips.

The artichokes are definitely staying.  I planted these back in November and there are already 4 baby artichokes and hopefully lots more to come.
Photo from November 2011
Photo from March 2012 
Baby Artichoke Developing
The potatoes, which were planted in late January, will stay in the garden until they are harvested in May.  The plants just received their first dirting.  As the plants grow up, more dirt will be place around the stems.
Potatoes Sprouting

Dirted Potatoes
So, this is what I'm working with.  My vegetable plot consists of 12 raised beds measuring 3' X 12' each. There are 6 beds on the left and 6 beds on the right separated by a wide isle.

On the left half of the garden, working from the front of the photo below, the freshly dirted potatoes will stay, but the bed containing the Brussels Sprouts will get cleared out.  The next bed containing the broccoli has already been cleaned out.  Behind the broccoli is the garlic, which will stay, followed by the cabbage, which will get cleared out.  Finally, way in the back, the peas will stay, but the lettuce will get cleared out.

On the right half of the garden, another bed of potatoes, is not quite visible at the front of the photo.  I planted one bed with white potatoes and the other with red.  The primary rutabaga bed at the front of the photo is looking pretty picked over.  Just 6 more rutabaga left and I can clear this bed out.  Behind the rutabaga, a bed containing a mix of beets, spinach and radishes will go.  The next bed contains onions, followed by a bed containing my beautiful kale and more rutabaga.  I'll try to keep these in place for as long as possible.  The final bed in the back contains the artichokes, which will stay.

In August, when the garden is fairly empty, filling the beds with tasty cabbages and rutabagas is a no brainer.  But, in March, when many of the winter plants are still producing, it's tough to decide what goes and what stays.  Of course, the ultimate solution is to expand, and you can bet, I'm already trying to figure that one out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hey Bud!

At the end of winter, when the buds swell, I start watching for signs that the trees and other plants are breaking dormancy.  As each successive plant buds out, it's hard not to get excited and spring fever takes hold of my brain.

I live in an area of Texas called the Post Oak Savannah.  My 2 acre home site is generously covered with Black Jack Oak, Cedar Elm, and of course, Post Oak.  I think this particular Post Oak has flower envy.

This is a Shumard Red Oak in the early stages of leafing out.  Known for their fall foliage, the spring foliage isn’t shabby either.

I added two Forest Pansy Redbud trees to my landscape last year.  The delicate pinkish, purple flowers are followed by the heart-shaped purple leaves that make this tree very striking. 

My Mountain Laurel is absolutely dripping with flowers this year.  The flowers feel like silk and have a wonderful fragrance that floats in the air.  

Chinese Wisteria is an aggressive vine that should be grown with care.  My best advice is to keep it pruned and provide a strong support.  I'll have more pictures of this plant in the next couple of weeks as it fills my arbor with massive quantities of flowers.  The picture below is of a smaller plant that I'm growing in a pot as I attempt to train it into a topiary form.

This Blue Ajuga was just planted last summer, but it's already putting out plenty of those great sapphire blue flowers that I love. 

Rainbow Ajuga doesn't have fancy flowers, but it's attractive foliage provides interest all year long.  

This Spring Bouquet Viburnum is a new addition to my garden.  In fact, this guy is still in it's pot.  I wanted to be sure I got the right plant this time.  Years ago I accidentally picked up a misnamed pretender that never bloomed.  Well, the non-bloomer is on it's way out and this beauty is moving in.  

This foxy lady is called Hot Lips Salvia.  Hmmm... I wonder why?

Another new additional to my garden is this orange Globe Mallow.  I first read about this plant on a fellow bloggers site and knew I had to have one.  The color combination of the silvery gray with the bright orange flowers is brilliant.

It wouldn't be Spring without rose buds.  I gave most of my roses a very hard pruning just weeks ago.  While they're putting out new growth for a late Spring show, I'll enjoy this lovely Knockout Rose.