A River Runs Through It…

The flood bypasses the garden to go into and through the garage. The studio was spared.


…our garage, that is. Several times a year we get very heavy rains that convert our backyard into a lake and our garage into a flowing river bed. Last night’s 5-7 inches (our 5 1/2 – inch rain gage was full) of rain caused the flooding which narrowly missed the garden. In the photo above you can see that the water surrounds the lettuce & bean patch at the left. The main part of the garden is on a little higher ground.

The effect on the garden remains to be seen. We are supposed to get more rain today.

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I’ve often wondered if scarecrows actually work. Ever since I saw a large bird perched on a garden scarecrow’s shoulder I have become a doubter and yet people continue to make scarecrows.

I’ve tried to think of a way to keep the rabbits out of the garden without putting up a taller fence midway through the gardening season. I wondered if there would be something I could use to frighten them that would not be expensive, obnoxious to my neighbors, or deadly to the rabbits. Our rabbits have become sort of like the cousins who came for a visit but have worn out their welcome. I want them gone but not dead.

Even as the bunnies first emerged from their nest in our yard, I knew I’d have to deal with them in a more adversarial way later. But early on they were a good time. We developed a relationship with two of them. They “taught” my 1 1/2 – year-old grandson to chase them in exactly two circles around the yard. It was a wonderful game they played almost daily.

Okay, back to the scarecrows. Actually I am less concerned about crows than I am about my now-grown rabbits. We’re still friends but discovering them inside the garden fence, well – that crosses a well-defined line.

Last year I faced the same issue but the summer weather was very damp and grass and weeds were growing so fast and were apparently so tasty that the rabbits didn’t think it was worth the extra effort to jump the fence. This year they’ve had the taste of seven varieties of lettuce and Kentucky Wonder pole bean plants. They return each day!

As a child I spent a lot of time observing animal life in the wild. I found this relaxing, educational and sometimes amusing. (Nevermind how amused my friends were watching me do this.) This developed into my having a pretty good sense of animal behavior.

It struck me that small mammals do have a fear of snakes and for good reason. I have heard of people putting fake snakes in gardens to keep critters away but these have been largely unsuccessful. They work for a while and then the garden thieves return sort of like the bird sitting on the scarecrow’s shoulder.

Rabbits and crows know the same thing. Something that doesn’t move is not a threat. By moving I don’t mean all flashy and wiggly. I mean moving from one place to another.

My “snake” is actually a section of hose about 6 feet long. It looks just enough like a snake to give a bunny pause. I find myself in the garden saying “Do you feel lucky – Well, do ya punk?”

Early on I didn’t change my snake’s position. It would work for exactly one day before the rabbits returned. But changing it once each day has kept the rabbits completely away. I’ve had no problems with rabbits at all for a couple of weeks now.

I like to think that my hours of watching animals as a kid has finally paid off. It’s also turned me into Dirty Harry.


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Picked Ten Minutes Ago

These might be good with olive oil & garlic… maybe on the grill – Do you have any recipes?


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Falling Nutrition Levels

messy - but nutritious


Although this is not new information, Rodale’s Prevention reports that fruits and vegetables are losing their nutrition. In “Nutritional Value of Fruits, Veggies is Dwindling” by Sarah Burns we learn that “Today’s conventionally-grown produce isn’t as healthful as it was 30 years ago — and it’s only getting worse.”

What’s happening? Dr. Donald Davis, former researcher with the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin believes “it’s due to the farming industry’s desire to grow bigger vegetables faster. The very things that speed growth — selective breeding and synthetic fertilizers — decrease produce’s ability to synthesize nutrients or absorb them from the soil.”

The author points out that the stress that organic gardening imposes on growing vegetables actually enhance their nutritional value. The article also shows “nine simple ways to put the nutrient punch back in your produce.”

Although I am enjoying the process of gardening, I find the results are healthful, interesting and tasty!

Cherry Roma tomatoes - almost ready...

Sweet Dumpling winter squash

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Weighing Safety of Weed Killer in Drinking Water, EPA Relies Heavily on Industry-Backed Studies


Continue reading »

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First Blush


The first hint of color came on just one of my cherry roma tomatoes this morning. I’ve been waiting since March 11 for this. Also, I had no idea that these plants were so large – just about seven feet tall so far. It’s those healthy SSE seeds, I guess.

Close inspection of the photo will show an aphid enjoying the view too. Is that drool coming out of his mouth? His buddy is in the next photo.

cherry roma tomato with a little color

aphid on tomato plant

Posted in garden problems, insects, seeds, tomatoes Tagged , , , |

The War Continues…


Last year I documented the war being waged in my garden. My “Winged Monkeys” came to my rescue in protecting my broccoli from green worms.

This morning I walked into another battle. A flower spider intended to make a Japanese beetle its brunch. I’ve rarely witnessed a spider taking on something more powerful than itself.

flower spider vs. Japanese beetle - Here, it's advantage spider.

Running to get my camera early in the match, I wondered what the outcome would be. My mind raced. I thought that if the win goes to the spider, would I perhaps be able to order flower spider eggs to control the Japanese beetle infestation currently eating my pole beans? Should I consider raising them and telling my Organic Gardening forum friends I’ve found the answer to this awful problem?

The chase went on for several minutes. Around and around the grape leaf they went. The spider wrapped the beetle with its thread, the beetle tore it up and escaped, only to be confronted again by its determined foe. Neither one seemed to have a clear advantage.

Like any neighborhood brawl, a crowd began to gather. Both a long-legged fly and a ladybug watched from a safe distance.

You can see here what I saw as I first brought my camera to the scene.

After several attempts the Japanese beetle was the victor. He retreated within the relative protection of new leaf growth a little ways away from and out of view of the spider.

It looks like I will need to continue using my old peanut butter jar full of water to solve my Japanese beetle problem. (I couldn’t find it in me to put the battle-worn beetle in the jar.)



capture again!

A long-legged fly watches the drama from a safe distance.

It's not over yet! He escapes with the spider in hot pursuit.

The Japanese beetle is putting some distance between himself and the spider.

It's over. The winner escapes with his life.

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The Urban Garden


With today’s post I want to introduce some gardens other than my own.

Two of my “city kids” have gardens. Andy is in Pilsen in Chicago and Jesse is in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. They both have very limited space for growing vegetables but that doesn’t seem to stop them from rather ambitious plantings.

Andy says, “It’s really amazing just how much you can grow if you have enough room and decide to devote enough space for plants. I’ll be totally set with tomatoes for the summer with three plants. Oh wait, actually four plants.”

In addition to the tomatoes Andy is growing:

    • habañero and jalapeño plants from seeds Jesse gave him from last year’s plants

    • herbs: thyme and basil

    • a two-year old strawberry plant that hasn’t yet produced any fruit

    • mustard greens

    • a forget-me-not plant

It’s important to note that all of Andy’s plants are inside his second-floor apartment in front of his large north-facing windows.

Andy says, “I’ve been using Terracycle plant food, which is the worm crap fertilizer and it has worked pretty well. I also like how they recycle old plastic pop bottles for the packaging. I guess one thing about container gardening is that you have to keep up with watering because the dirt in containers dries out very quickly.”

Andy's Chicago garden

Jesse also has an amazing garden in a very small space. I asked him last evening if he could send me a photo. He answered this way,

    i saw your message and directly went and shot a photo of my tomato plants. there was supposed to be a storm tonight and this was just as the rain started coming down. those are in my bedroom window. they are growing strong, but they have not fruited yet. many brown leaves. perhaps i am not watering enough? i have a feeling this is it. nothing i have is in the ground and i think the water runs out quickly. it is also possibly very crowded. i have five large plants in my window. in my other bedroom/office/darkroom window i have my squashes and one other tomato plant. they are doing similar. the squashes have been fruiting slightly, but they have fallen off when they do :(. i will keep at it.

Jesse also notes that container plants need to be watered more often than ground plantings. I would also add that tomato plants are self-pollinating. That is, they don’t need insects to pollinate. They DO, however, need wind or something to make this happen. With indoor tomato and pepper plants you may need to tap the flowers gently to get them to pollinate. Some people use an electric toothbrush to make this happen! Since Jesse’s are on an outside window cage he should be fine. I do wonder a little about Andy’s north light for tomatoes! And… wait a minute… Did Jesse actually say that he has squash plants in his window?

Jesse's Brooklyn garden as the rain begins to fall

Posted in Andy's Chicago garden, garden problems, Jesse's Brooklyn garden, seeds, tomatoes, Uncategorized, urban gardens Tagged , , , , , |

Tomato Blight is Here!

Is this tomato blight?


There is a disturbing article out of Rodale, the publishers of Organic Gardening, that tomato blight has been confirmed in several states. For tomato growers, both farmers and home gardeners, this is no small thing. This is the same disease that caused the mid-19th century Irish potato famine.

I suggest that you read Rodale’s article and do exactly what they say if you find symptoms of tomato blight in your own garden.

I am not sure that the photos taken in my garden this afternoon pictured here show evidence of tomato blight. I will research it further. In the mean time you might want to take a look at the Rodale article and then take a look at your tomato plants.

An Update Today…
I’ve come across a pretty good video for those wishing to identify late blight. This piece filmed last year for the University of Wisconsin – Madison is helpful in not only the description of late blight but also has information as to how to destroy the plants. Not all options given are organic but information for organic growers is offered. -Bill

Is this tomato blight?

Posted in history, plant diseases, tomatoes Tagged , , , |

Brushing My Tomatoes’ Teeth

Brandywine (Sudduth's Strain) tomato

There are a lot of stages of growth in a garden. Waiting for seeds to germinate, seeing the first “true” leaves, and finding the first squash blossom are landmarks I look forward to each year. Probably my favorite is finding the first tomato.

I have been reading recently on the Seed Savers Exchange forum that the Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain) variety has some, well… difficulties. Half of my tomatoes are – you guessed it – Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain). Posters have been using words like “temperamental” and “difficult” regarding this variety. One even called it “legendarily temperamental.” One poster suggested using an electric toothbrush a couple of times a day to vibrate the flower clusters. This is “to allow the pollen to fall from the anthers onto the stigma.”

So I’m to brush my tomato plants’ “teeth” two times a day, huh. Gosh, I hope they don’t need flossing. It is actually nice to know that there are ways to pollinate plants when ideal weather conditions or lack of bees cause fruit to not set. This situation could certainly be encountered by both greenhouse and high-rise patio gardeners. Although tomatoes are essentially self pollinating, some varieties may need a little help. I really recommend the knowledgeable people on the Seed Savers and Organic Gardening forums

I’m happy to report that my tomato plants seem to have produced tomatoes without the toothbrush routine. This weekend I came upon first tomatoes of each of the three varieties I grew.

As usual, I’d welcome any stories about your gardens.

** an update from one of my Seed Savers forum friends regarding the tomato pictured above – “…as is very typical with Brandywine Sudduth’s and other varieties of that era, you can see that that’s 2 merged blossoms. You’ve got a double! That could produce a VERY large tomato.”

Cherry Roma tomato

Red Brandywine tomato

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