August 9th, 2012
Cool, Cool Summer

debbie_tnHere in Olympia we’ve had about 5 days in the 80s or higher, so the tomatoes are just starting to set fruit and peppers are starting to flower. This is my first full season at my new garden after 25 years at my other place, so it’s like learning to garden all over again. There aren’t many big slugs here but lots of the little ones, which are much more insidious. You don’t realize they’re there until everything is gone and you wonder what happened. Together with a very cold, late spring, there were no early greens to speak of. Most are just now putting on size after several plantings.

GoldenEgg

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The ‘Golden Egg’ summer squash (above) from Burpee is now coming on and is quite tasty; looks nice, too.

LittleJade

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I got one ‘Little Jade’ baby Chinese cabbage (above), which was actually quite large.

NeonGlowMix

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The Swiss chard Neon Glow Mix (above) from Renee’s Garden is pretty; tastes like chard. ‘Yellowstone’ carrot is a beautiful light yellow and quite sturdy but a bit dense for my taste to eat fresh. I’ve been grating it and putting it into everything when I remember. I’m growing the red carrot ‘Atomic Red’ for fall/winter. ‘Capitano’ bush bean is just now putting on beans. I don’t think it’s fair to rate it because those dang slugs kept eating the leaves back so the plants are quite tiny. Got to give it points for continuing to try to grow and reproduce!

Shangri-LaMarina

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Last year’s viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’ (above), an All-America Selections winner, made it through the winter and is going gangbusters. —Debbie Leung, Olympia, Washington

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August 2nd, 2012
Three Tomato-Growing Lessons

I have grown ‘Green Zebra’ tomatoes for a while and they are one of my favorite varieties. If you leave them on the vine to ripen they will go a yellow-gold color and be quite sweet. Personally, I like them a little greener so they are a bit tarter. Interestingly, ‘Green Zebra’ starts to soften before it turns yellow; I like them just as they start to soften.

Yesterday I picked ‘Pilcer Vesy’, another of the tomato varieties we’re trialing. It has been my most vigorous grower this year and loaded with large fruit. However, I’m not so certain I like that neon yellow color. Something in my biological makeup warns me against eating neon-colored foods. I’m thinking that about ‘Indigo Rose’, too, but will make judgement on both when I taste them. I already have two wonderful yellow slicers I grow every year so ‘Pilcer Vesy’ will have some stiff competition.

My main planting of tomatoes are doing very poorly this year. They are on ground that I’ve only had developed for 2 years, and despite my efforts to build the soil they are very stunted. My other regret is that I went away for 2 weeks mid-June with my drip system just set up and we hit 2 weeks of unseasonably high temperatures. When I came back my heart fell as I could tell immediately that they hadn’t been getting enough water. Interestingly, even though I have pygmy plants this year most are loaded with fruit. I wonder if the water stress triggered fruit production over vine growth? Anyway, three lessons learned:

1. Get my drip set up at least 2 weeks before going on holidays. (Hah, I’ve been saying this for years. Maybe it’s better not to go away on holidays till July…)

2. Divide and conquer. My paste tomatoes located elsewhere in the garden (on soil I’ve been gardening and enriching for longer) are looking super.

3. Put your tomatoes on your best soil. Next year they’re going back on my more well-developed soil. Even though that area is a bit more shaded they’ll be wonderful, leafy 9-foot giants by this time next year.  —Tracey Parrish, Boulder, Colorado

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July 26th, 2012
Summer Update from Wisconsin

kathy_tnIn Wisconsin we’ve been sweating in above-average heat, and watering due to below-average rainfall, to say the least. I do have to say that the melon vines are more vigorous than any we’ve ever grown so I’m hoping we get a good crop.

yellow Romano-type bush bean 'Capitano'

yellow Romano-type bush bean 'Capitano'

We harvested the first ‘Capitano’ beans (left) and the flavor is better than I expected since bush varieties usually fall short in the flavor comparison to our pole beans.

The ‘Cherry Stuffer’ pepper has come in second place for earliest pepper, and we actually picked it red! The first in were ‘Garden Sunshine’ peppers, which we picked in the yellow phase. I can’t wait for them to turn color before picking them. We’re still waiting on the other peppers as well as the tomato varieties.

zukeAnd also the zucchinis, believe it or not. They got ignored and made it through blisteringly hot temperatures with no watering only because they were mulched. They’re starting to look like real zucchini plants again (right) and we should have zukes shortly.


speckled and streaked flowers of zinnia 'Pop Art Red & Yellow'

speckled and streaked flowers of zinnia 'Pop Art Red & Yellow'

I should also tell you that the zinnias (left) and salvias are blooming their heads off.

Well, back to eating salads, cucumber salsa, gazpacho, and grilled summer veggies (I love this time of year!) while keeping cool.  —Kathy Shaw, Neenah, Wisconsin

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July 16th, 2012
Summer Vegetables in a Short Growing Season

Now it’s July and time to take a breath …. Since February it has been drier and warmer than average here in Colorado (if there are such things as climate averages in this state). I was a bit late getting my spring crops in, so the pea and lettuce season was short. I fell in love with ‘Mayan Jaguar’ lettuce from Fedco Seeds; it’s pretty with bite-size leaves. Because of the early heat and dry I had to be super-diligent with watering to avoid bitterness. Most growers here cover greens with row cloth but I find it makes lettuces rather tasteless and pale.

The tomatoes are growing well. ‘Pilcer Vesy’ is huge and loaded with fruit. It’s even dwarfing my usually vigorous ‘Pineapple’ and Aussie varieties. My early-season tomatoes are only just now ripening (even with a month head start in Wallo’Waters). The test cherries are also just starting to color. I’ve gone crazy with tomatoes this year and am growing 30+ varieties, so I’ll have plenty to compare the trial varieties to.

Summer squash have just started producing this last week. The summer squash ‘Golden Egg’, from Burpee, is very vigorous but I haven’t tried it yet. All the winter squash are doing well and I am holding out hope for the watermelons and melons. They are growing vigorously and flowering but need to get done by early September. I’m situated in a frost hollow so I seldom have success with melons.

The Brussels sprouts are growing vigorously. I am growing the test variety along with another three varieties. The cauliflower is great but maybe another 2 to 3 weeks off. I’m a cauliflower fan and have some great preserve recipes so I have planted six or so varieties this year. I’ve grown the ‘Purple Peacock’ broccoli before and was unimpressed. It isn’t exciting me much this year either but I’ll keep an open mind for another 2 or 3 weeks.  —Tracey Parrish, Boulder, Colorado

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July 6th, 2012
Heat Waves and Hail: Summer in Dallas

leslie_h_tnFor all the weather punishment we’ve been taking down here in Texas for the last 5 years—especially last year—we’re actually getting a much deserved break this year! We had a mild to non-existent winter (which does make the bugs quite happy) and a very, very wet and long spring. Yes, we’ve had a stretch at 106°F already, but it didn’t hit 100° until July 1 here, which is great! Last year we hit 100° by June 1. We don’t know what to think about this kind of mild weather, but after last year we’ll take it!

You may have heard we had a pretty hefty hail storm here in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. Luckily there was little damage at my home. Unfortunately, almost all the plants I put in our display and testing gardens up here at the garden center were completely destroyed by almost softball-sized hail. Who knows what the rest of July and August will hold, but the mild temps and rainfall have so far made for a pretty easy gardening year, all things considered. Not easy to say in Dallas!

Side note: Dallas is under permanent watering restrictions. Twice per week via automated system, but we are allowed to use drip irrigation or hand-water as needed within specific time parameters.

 'Faerie' is a compact hybrid watermelon with a ghostly skin. It's an All-America Selections winner for 2012.

'Faerie' is a compact hybrid watermelon with a ghostly skin. It's an All-America Selections winner for 2012.

I’m particularly in love with this ‘Faerie’ watermelon so far. It’s probably my favorite variety on the trial list right now. Of course, we’ve had such a mild June that who knows what they’ll do in a normal summer. So far, they’ve been very prolific (but I do have beehives and the bees are helping quite a bit). The compact size of the vines is fantastic. I have them growing in my front yard where they are quite the fascination for the neighbors.  And no powdery mildew. I should be harvesting soon—I hope the flavor is just as good as all the other characteristics!  —Leslie Halleck, Dallas, Texas

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