Tuesday, May 31, 2011


So yesterday I tried a spray for green peach aphids that consisted of vegetable oil, water and dish soap on my row of potted plants out back. I am expecting an order of ladybugs on Wednesday, but in the mean time I wanted to get rid of the bugs I already had.

Here's what 4 of my 5 potted plants (2 eggplant and 3 tomatoes) looked like last night. I know it's hard to see, but they are all leafy and large and green.

Here's what I found this afternoon (the kids watered the plants in the morning):

Ouch. I'm guessing spraying oil on the leaves during the most freakishly hot May weather Pittsburgh has seen in years has essentially deep fried my plants. Oh well, live and learn. At least the aphids died too.

While we're talking about fails, here is a picture of my puppies trying to eat bees off of the flowers on my fence. They're not the smartest dogs in the world.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day garden clean-up and aphid killing spree.

We did our family BBQ on Sunday, so Memorial Day was spent on the serious issue of making the front yard (where our city garden resides) not look like crap. We added the newest member of our family last Wednesday, and I spent the next three days in the hospital so there was a lot left half done. The worst offence was probably spreading straw and leaving piles of it on the sidewalks to be drenched and blown around in the rain for three days. Ugh.

I found out later that it was about 95 degrees in Pittsburgh today, which probably explains why I was so lightheaded after a few minutes of work at 3pm. I got the bean and pea bed weeded (it was being invaded by some type of vine that the old home owners planted EVERYWHERE) and then went inside until around 7pm. I wouldn't say things are done, but they are certainly much much better.

The kids enjoyed our first "harvest" today, which consisted solely of some small pea shoots that were the victims of a serious thinning effort.

These two volunteers were oddly coming up in the squash bed. I KNOW I didn't plant them because they were coming up near the two transplants I bought, which are no where near the seeds I planted. Since our compost is heavy on cukes, squash, and other melon-type things, these could be almost anything. I replanted them in pots to see what grows until I can find a spot.

The two Space Miser transplants are HUGE and have some nice silvery coloration on the leaves.

Anybody know what this is? These are weeds growing in one of my beds but they have this deep purple bubbling on the leaves. I am worried that it's some type of fungus that might spread to my veggies.

We also made a spray for green peach aphids and sprayed down the tomatoes and eggplant in the pots out back. I only saw actual aphids on one of the plants, but there were spots that seemed to be caused by aphid damage on every plant. I am also awaiting a box of lady bugs on Wednesday.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


UGH. Turns out things weren't quite as great in the back yard during our absence as they were in the front yard. Our one Ichibahn eggplant, the star of last years garden that produced all year even when everything else in the same bed died of disease, is the only plant that seems to have not grown AT ALL. Upon closer inspection I found it crawling with little green bugs that were quickly identified as Aphids (thank you Google).

The soulution I settled on is getting rid of the two leaves that are beyond hope, spraying the buggies off of the others with a powerful stream of water, and ordering large amounts of live lady bugs to kill the suckers when they try to repopulate. My bugs should be here in 4 days due to the holiday delaying things, and the kids are super excited now that they know that Ladybugs are "meat eaters".

My poor wilting Ichibahn eggplant that was doing SO WELL before we left.

The one leaf that was Aphid central.

A long view of the fence with our potted cherry tomatoes and eggplant. The tomatoes are going strong and the Chinese eggplant seems aphid free for now.

We have a tiny maple tree growing in our eggplant pot!

A close up of the Chinese eggplant.

Flowers on one of the Sweet 100 cheery tomato plants.

This plant is growing on the ground all around the potted plants. It's either coming from the neighbors plant bed on the other side, or was planetd there before we moved in. When I rip a leaf off, it had a VERY strong scent that is almost like citronella but I know this plant isn't that. Hopefully Google can help me out here.

One of the other tomatoes.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

We return! Pittsburgh rain does a garden good.

I'm back! How sad is it that the first thing I wanted to do after being gone for three days was make sure the garden wasn't totally destroyed? I wasn't really worried about lacking water since it rained every day we were gone, but some of the newer beds have un-tested drainage (something to worry about with a small uneven yard) so there was always the possibility that we'd come home to pea-and-dirt soup instead of any lovely pea sprouts.

Turns out I had reason to worry, as there were several areas where it looked like beans floated too high to germinate, but overall it was SUPER AWESOME to see all the new plants. I went from a garden that was 95% store-bought transplants, to one that contained bed upon bed of stuff we had actually planted as SEED. Woot!

The coolest part is that we have 5 different types of bush bean planted in various beds. Two green, one purple, and two yellow. They all look very much the same in leaf shape and general design, but there are subtle differences in the little 4 inch plants.

I will say that the front yard looks like crap though. Over the next couple of days we'll be on a weeding, thinning, and tidying frenzy to get in back into shape. I guess that's what 3 days of absence during record thunderstorms will do.

Blue Lake Bush Bean sprouts.

The large pea/bean bed with one of the volunteer tomatoes against the wall. Our compost must be very tomatoe heavy because I've been pulling them like weeds. The ones in this bed made it pretty far so I will transplant them in a few days and grow them in pickle buckets. I wonder what type they are!

The pepper bed seems firmly established. I was worried about transplant shock because I shredded the roots on several of them.

The tomato and basil bed seems to be doing well, aside from the horrible straw placement. This is the result of both 6 year olds being in charge of straw placement, though the party line is that the storms must have blown it around. Fixing the straw mulch is priority number one for garden clean up day.

This is the beet patch pre-thinning. Look at the weird purple leaves on that one plant!

This bed has kohlrabi, bush wax beans, Arikara beans (yellow heirloom bush), and early/compact forms of Brocolli, purple cabbage and green cabbage. I planted the cabbage and broccoli from seed after the ones I started were eaten by the kitties during the hardening off phase. They are extremely short season versions (don't remember the type...) so hopefully we get some results before the slugs and bunnies team up against them.

The kohlrabi transplants.

The green cabbage before thinning (next year I have to perfect my small seed spreading technique).

The purple cabbage before thinning.

Tiny flower on a pepper plant (I think Gypsy).

The circle pea bed has sprouts!

Another green bush bean (forget the type, but not Blue Lake).

Pea shoots. Peas and Beans were the two big things we wish we'd had MUCH more of last year so we are trying to fit them in where ever we can.

Royal Burgundy Bush Beans.

More beans just sprouting now!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Catching up...

I haven't been home since Tuesday, but I managed to take some photos before I left. Here they are as a general status update before going home and HOPEFULLY finding lots of progress (and nothing eaten by bunnies) tomorrow:

The kohlrabi is still intact!

A volunteer tomato in the pea bed. I will likely move it to a 5 gallon bucket.

A line of peas with doggie footprints in the dirt.

Dog prints in the pepper bed.

Broccoli...though I do not remember the type.

The beginnings of the pan patty squash from Burpee. It was a mixed packet of colors so we will hopefully get a variety.

Space Miser transplants. The silver leaf pattern was concerning, but since both plants have it in identical spots I think it's normal.

The kids laid out the straw. It needs some touching up when we get home. This is basil between two Early Girl tomatoes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Well, as it turns out I'll be out of commission for a few days. We managed to get our peppers in the ground, plus two 4' rows of Blue Lake Bush Beans in the big 8'x4' bed, but after this I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed and hope things grow while I'm gone.

For peppers, we have 5 plants each of hot banana peppers and sweet banana peppers, 8 green bells, 2 big early bells, and 2 orange bells. All of these were bought pre-started because we killed all the plants we started from seed this year (except for a small few that are looking weak).

We actually bought 8 of each banana pepper plant, so we still have 3 of each type to plant. I'm not sure where they'll be going yet, but probably either in some of the extra containers we have, or along a wall where I have extra space. I hope they survive in their trays for the next few days.

I'm kind of walking the line between square foot gardening and traditional row gardening. Next year I'd like to actually put string on my beds to mark the feet and use templates to lay stuff out more evenly, but this year I'm just eyeballing it. Beans and Peas are too difficult to lay out in a proper pattern so they are getting set in rows (along with carrots and beets which are also in rows) but peppers, herbs and squash are getting a more compact pattern.

I'm also planting as many complimentary things as I can. Last season our summer squash was DESTROYED by vine borers so I stocked up on radish packets at the end of the season. When planted and allowed to go to seed they are supposed to ward of the vine borers, but we'll see.

We also took our basil out of the pot and planted it in 4 spots between our tomato plants. I'd like to pick up two more types of basil, including purple so we can surround our tomato bed and try out the different types.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Changing plans and dead cats.

Ew. So we dug up an area that had been covered by some type of flowering bush and there were some realllllly old cat bones under some rocks. The area was going to become a fairly shallow planting bed anyway (for peas) so we just put the rocks back down and ignored it. There is a good 8 inches above it to work with, and we can add a few by raising the bed with bricks.

On the positive side, it's been a whole lot sunnier, and we actually managed to get most of our stuff in the ground. I still have vague feelings of dread in regards to any of the direct seeded things popping up, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

The Chinese Eggplant seems to like it's container. It looked a little sickly the day after transplant, but it's fine now.

The cherry tomatoes have doubled in size...I don't remember which kind this is, but the plants seem to be thriving.

You can see all the onion starts in the closest bed, then the kohlrabi starts in the middle bed. We're experimenting with the kohlrabi this year. I've always loved it but cabbage relatives did poorly for us last year.

We were given several plastic Tidy Cat buckets from my grandparents, and though they are a little small for tomatoes, they are PERFECT for peppers. After drilling holes in the bottom, we put a layer of flat rocks, then a layer of topsoil, then a layer of topsoil mixed with peat, and finally a layer of potting soil. Since the plants we started bit the dust, I had to use whatever compact peppers the stores had, and I went with two Gypsy peppers and two Yummy Bell peppers. Both are small, sweet varieties that turn orange and should be a lot of fun for the kids to pick and eat off of the plant.

We dug out a small circular bed in an are where we had some space and made it into a pea bed. We'll have a teepee trellis in the center once they sprout.

This is the row of ground-planted tomatoes. We also had to rely on store-bought seedlings for our tomatoes this year, but went with varieties as close to my original seed order as possible. Here we have 2x Mr. Stripey (the clear taste winner from last year), 2x Black Krim (replacing the Black Prince from last year, which was yummy but seemed to split too easily), 1 x pineapple tomato (a kid pick), 2x Better Boy (the red winner from last year), and 2x Early Girl (just to see how early they actually are). We will also be planting sweet basil and purple basil in the same bed, though right now we only have 4 sweet basil plants actually in the ground.

Friday, May 20, 2011


After skipping a day or two of rain and packed, clay Earth, we're back on track and have been getting a remarkable amount of planting done considering the weather and the manpower at our disposal (2x 6 year olds, a couple of toddlers, a woman in her 41st week of pregnancy, and a guy that has too many other things to do). We've also had our fair share of setbacks over the past few days:

1) Nearly 2/3rds of our seedlings didn't make it to the hardening-off stage, and half of those that were left were eaten by our cats. While we now know that we need at least one pot of cat grass to appease the beasts, we are SOL on growing our own from seed this year for anything with a long growing season. Peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and other basics have to be purchased pre-started.

2) The rain MY GOD THE RAIN. Don't get me wrong, once our plants are in the ground all the rain will be AMAZING, but it has severely delays things thus far.

3) Our beds are in serious need of conditioning, not only due to the moisture, but because anything dug this year is about 90% clay and rocks under invasive weed-filled sod. The only real way to make it workable at all is to work it by hand during one of th rare dry spells. We distributed all of last year's compost and found that it isn't NEARLY enough, so now we're kicking ourselves for not getting horse poo last fall.

4) I worry about the things we direct seeded. Last year we had very mixed results with direct seeding, and nearly everything that produced WELL was planted from already started plants. Our turnips were attacked by some kind of snail, our radishes were hit and miss, our peas were fine but planted during the hottest month killing production right when they looked good, and our beets didn't get nearly as big as expected. I have planted a TON of bush beans, peas, squash, beets, carrots and onions. Looking at the ground after the last few days of rain I have a hard time imagining seeds growing in that crusty grey dirt. I've also seen the occasional 6-year-old sized foot print in an already planted bed, though oddly no one has fessed up...

These are our last surviving seedlings...the tomatoes are TINY because anything larger was eaten by cats. At least we have some cucumbers that might survive.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Racing the rain to get stuff in the ground.

Well, being in the middle of an entire month of daily rain it's been pretty difficult to find time for planting. After getting behind and then losing most of our seedlings it's been tough to get back on track. Hopefully we learn some things for next year.

We did manage to get Two of the larger beds planted yesterday, one with onions and Shallots (red and yellow of each) and one with peas and bush beans. The shallots were a random clearance find at Lowes, and the onion bed is the bed that gets the most daytime shade in our garden, so we'll see how that goes. Considering we found a bunch of almost fully grown onions in our compost from last years cast-off bulbs I'm hoping the sunlight they do get is enough.

Today the plan is to get a full bed planted with beets and carrots, and then possibly put tomatoes in the ground. We'll see how the weather cooperates.

The bed on the end by the potting soil bags is the onion and shallot bed.

We bought that square rain barrel last year, and will be moving it around the corner to the area where the hay is. We will also raise it onto cinder blocks and direct the gutter into it. See all those fruit plants? We found them at Lowes for 2.25 each on clearance down from $9. We're not sure yet where we'll be putting them, but we have 5 blueberry bushes, several golden and red raspberries, several black berries, and 6 tubes with 25 strawberry plants in each.

The older boys were mostly helpful for their weed-pulling and rock-collecting skills. We turned up a lot of new earth this year. so there were many chunks of rock or broken brick that needed picked out.

This is the general layout of the right side of the front yard. The only bed left to dig is the one for melons down the side of the hill. As you can see there is still quite a bit of work to be done conditioning each bed.

One of the random onions we found scattered around the yard and compost from last year.