Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Beans, Apples, Grass: Links to Washington Post Gardening Articles

Heirloom snap beans, 10 apple varieties, goose grass—here are links to three recent Washington Post articles about gardening:

For Barbara Damrosch’s “A Cook’s Garden” column about Italian heirloom snap beans, such as Garrafal Oro, Yellow Anellino, and Anellino di Trento, CLICK HERE.

For Tony Rosenfeld’s article about apples, “What’s to be done with you, Elstar and Matsu?” which includes a sidebar with photos of 10 “new” varieties with short descriptions of tastes, uses, and seasons, CLICK HERE.

For Patterson Clark’s “Urban Jungle” column on goose grass, the tough weed we love to hate but in a pinch could eat its seeds, CLICK HERE.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stink Bugs: 52 More in Trap

Another 52 stink bugs
In earlier postings I reported on my experiment with a Rescue Stink Bug Trap.  Two weeks ago I reported that after two weeks the trap contained 106 brown marmorated stink bugs, the lures still were attracting stink bugs, and that I re-hung the trap and would report periodically.

Today was the end of the fourth week the trap has been operating with the original two-week lures, which other trap users had told me attract stink bugs much longer than two weeks.  Late this afternoon I took apart the trap and counted 52 living and dead stink bugs.

The total for my one trap is 158 stink bugs over a four-week period.  I have noticed over the last week or 10 days—most of which have been cloudy with periods of drizzle, showers, or rain—that the stink bugs are much less evident where I had been seeing them in significant numbers.  Our two lilacs a few weeks ago (see my posting of September 1) contained hundreds of congregating stink bugs, and I could find scores any time I looked for them in the Tomato Patch.

Now I see few of them, but when I do, they’re most often on the white trim of our house and, in late afternoon, on its warmer western and northern walls.

I re-hung the trap again after I removed the stink bugs today and I’ll do another count in two weeks.  The weather the next few days will be warm, near 80°F. during the day and the 60s at night, but cooler fall weather will arrive Friday.  Perhaps the cooler temperatures will cause the stink bugs to seek permanent winter cover and fewer will enter the trap.

If you want to read my posting of two weeks ago about how the stink-bug trap worked during the first two weeks, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Which Has Lower Prices: Costco or BJ’s?

Where do we save more $$$?
The first week of September was gray with rain, rain, and more rain.  According to Weather Bureau statistics in the Washington Post, our area had 4.76 inches of precipitation that week.  Average is 0.84 inches.  We had so much rain for so many days in a row that I thought I should probably start calling the Tomato Patch our Watercress Patch.  I imagined that even the stink bugs were wearing Scuba gear.  So what to do?

Why not compare prices at the two big nearby membership “wholesale” stores, Costco and BJ’s Wholesale Club.  I’ve been wanting to do that for months.  We used to stock up once a month or so at BJ’s, but when Costco opened a few years ago, we switched to the new arrival for what we thought to be greater selection and slightly better prices.  Since then BJ’s has renovated and changed inventory significantly.  Should we consider changing allegiances again?

So exiled from lawn and garden on a rainy morning, I visited both stores and with a list of 17 items we often buy at the big boxes, I wandered the aisles and wrote down prices.  Which store do you think came out being the bigger money-saver?

Costco and BJ’s had identical prices on four items: Campari tomatoes (2 lbs), Ocean Spray Original Craisins (48 oz), Dove bath soap (14 bars), and HP #75XL printer cartridges (2 pack).

BJ’s had lower prices on three items: hummus singles (12), Diet Dr. Pepper (36 pack), and Multi Vitamins Mature or 50+.  If we purchased those three items at BJ’s, we would save $1.30.

Costco had lower prices on Morning Star Chipotle Black Bean Burgers (12); dried, chopped onion (large bottle); dried plums; nut clusters; multi-vitamins (500); Gillette Mach 3 razor blades; Charmin Supersoft toilet paper; HP #74 X printer cartridges (2); Cetaphil moisturizing cream(20 oz); and Loratadine tablets (300). If we purchased those 10 items at Costco, we would save $16.89.

I think both stores have their strong points.  BJ’s stocks some items we always buy but Costco doesn’t sell: Pepperidge Farm Cinnamon Raisin Bread, raisin medley, and select-a-size paper towels.  Many of BJ’s items come in smaller sizes that this two-person household appreciates, such as smaller clamshell boxes of fresh grapes.  BJ’s accepts manufacturers’ coupons, and Costco doesn’t.  I can use the credit card of my choice at BJ’s, not just those on Costco’s restricted list.  Costco, however, has a greater selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, prepared foods, and electronics, and it has a gas station that saves us at least 5 cents a gallon.  Our local BJ’s doesn’t sell gas.

Bottom line: Both local stores are good places to save money, but we’ll save more at Costco.  We’ll keep our membership there.  And we’ll shop for sale items at our local Giant Food store, where special prices often are just as attractive as those at the big box discounters.

Of course, if your shopping list is different, your savings at the two stores might be different too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Does Your Lawn Need Some “Work”?

Whose lawn needs a little "work"?

Have you made a mental note to do some much-needed work on your lawn next spring—to kill weeds, fill in some bare spots, do major renovation?

Forget about waiting until next spring.  There’s a better time to get started—now.

In his “One turf battle … you can win” in the Washington Post, Adrian Higgins writes:  “September and October are the best months for lawn fixing, especially for seeding preferred cool-season fescues.  It may seem more intuitive to seed in the spring, when everything is growing, but spring seedlings can be too frail to handle the rigors of summer.  Fall-started grass will have developed more fully before the stresses of next year’s growing season.”

Higgins’ article has several sidebars you’ll want to skim: “Infringing on your turf,” about common lawn problems; “The weed whisperer,” about—you guessed already—what to do about common turf weeds; “It’s tall fescue to the rescue,” which makes the case for using turf-type tall fescue grass seed; and “Be among the sharpest tools in the shed,” which describes essential tools for the job, such as a rake and spreader, and some you might want to rent or borrow for a major lawn rehab—such as an aerator, rototiller, and dethatcher.

To read Higgins’ article, CLICK HERE.

If Higgins’ article and sidebars tweak your interest in working on your lawn but you want in-depth information, I recommend you read the University of Maryland Extension’s Home & Garden Information Center’s 12-page free brochure, “Lawn Establishment, Renovation, and Overseeding.”  Major sections include: Pre-Planting Decisions; Lawn Establishment; Renovation; Repairing Bare Spots; Care & Maintenance after Seeding; Common Lawn Problems; and “Turfgrass Maintenance Calendars.”  To read, download, or print the brochure, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Pile of 1,202 Stink Bugs

Come and get 'em!

When I saw four Rescue Stink Bug Traps around our neighbors’ home and vegetable garden, I asked if I could count the brown marmorated stink bugs when they cleaned out the traps and replaced the lures.  A recent email from Debbie and Jeff said to come and get four bags of stink bugs, one bag hanging on each trap.  The traps had been in place for four weeks with their original “two-week” lures.

Wow, what great neighbors—they gave me their stink-bug harvest!

I made the rounds of their four traps last Thursday morning and retrieved the sealed plastic bags with mostly dead stink bugs. Each of the bags contained living stink bugs, which indicated to me that the lures were still attracting their quarry long after their advertised two weeks.

I put down the gate of my pickup, laid out old newspapers, slowly maneuvered the living stink bugs into a bottle of soapy water, and with a plastic fork began separating and counting the dead bugs. 

Here’s what I found—plus a few comments:

Four bags of stink bugs to count
Trap One, with solar-powered LED light to attract stink bugs at night, is, like all four traps, located in the lawn.  This one is near the detached garage and about 60 feet from the family vegetable garden.  It contained 332 stink bugs of all sizes (phases or instars), including many first instars about the size of a dog tick.  This number included 10 green stink bugs, another species.

Trap Two, without LED light, contained 378 stink bugs, including one green one, again in all phases. This trap is about 25 feet from the vegetable garden, where most tomatoes show pin pricks from stink bug feeding and where stink bugs still feed on the fruit.  This was the largest count, so did absence of an LED light increase the catch?  I don’t think so.  I suspect the number is evidence of the trap’s proximity to an excellent food supply—garden vegetables.

Trap Three, with LED light, contained 305 stink bugs, including an amazing 68 live ones.  What fun I had getting them out of the plastic bag and into the bottle of soapy water.  Two managed flights to safety, but they are in the count.  I have no idea about why there were so many live bugs in this one trap.

After the count, a pile of 1,202 stink bugs
Trap Four, with LED light, contained only 187 stink bugs.  Why so few?  The message on the bag said it all: “Dropped Catch.”  Oops, accidents do happen, but if we don’t get a National Science Foundation mega-grant, you know why.  When I looked at the collection from this trap, I noticed that all but a few were the larger phases of stink bugs, so I assume that the smaller captives got lost in the grass when they were dropped.  How many were lost?  I decided I’d estimate by averaging the number of bugs in the three other traps, which came to 338.  That suggests that about 151 stink bugs were lost when dropped.

Bottom line: The four traps contained 1,202 stink bugs plus the estimated 151 lost for a total of  about 1,353.

Were Jeff and Debbie impressed by their catch?

Debbie:  “No, I thought after two weeks the traps would be overflowing, but that was not the case.”

Jeff:  “No, but hope springs eternal that we will have fewer of the smelly, fair-weather bugs in the house this winter.  I’ve killed more with pesticide around the flood lights by the garage at night.”

Have the traps reduced the stink bugs in your vegetable garden?

378 stink bugs in nearby trap while these
continued to damage tomatoes
Debbie: “No.  In fact, most of the blooms in our vegetable and flower garden were decimated.  Although the garden was green, every one of the gigantic sunflower heads was thoroughly enjoyed by the bugs.”

Jeff:  “Yes, but the number of bugs in the garden was a few orders of magnitude greater than in the traps.  Stink bugs increased production costs, and although one of the traps was about 25 feet from the garden, the stink bugs preferred the green, leafy vegetation over the green and yellow hard plastic of the traps.” 

Do you think you’ll use them again next year?

Debbie:  "First let’s see how the seven-week refills work.”

Jeff:  “Next year perhaps we’ll set the four traps either under the lilacs or near the back porch light.”

The four traps, with new lures installed on September 13, are now attracting a new collection of brown marmorated stink bugs.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tomato Patch: Beginning of an Early End

Tomato Patch 2011: An Early End?

Sometimes the Tomato Patch gets too much of a good thing—rain.

Early in the season I searched the sky for signs of rain clouds as I filed my drip-irrigation buckets.  In the last month we’ve had abundant rain, and then some, from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.   Weather data for nearby BWI Marshall Airport reports seven inches of precipitation above normal to date for September and more than 12 inches above normal for the year.

The effects of all the extra moisture are evident in the Tomato Patch.  Many of the plants are dying from early blight and from a variety of leaf-spot diseases.  Such plant dieback is pretty much an annual event—but one that usually concerns me in October, not September.

Now chilling out in our freezer
Realizing that Tomato Patch 2011 is ending early, I picked about 20 Celebrity tomatoes at breaker stage on Sunday and took them into the garage to fully ripen and picked nearly two colanders of paste-type tomatoes—Super Marzano, Big Mama, and Juliet—and then made 16 cups of sauce, which are now in our freezer.  Tuesday, as a heavy drizzle began what the forecast calls another damp week, I removed the 10 drip-irrigation buckets from the Tomato Patch and hosed them clean inside and out.

What’s left in the Tomato Patch?  Not much—a few Celebrities that I’ll pick and move into the garage when they show a bit of color—and a handful or two, perhaps, of smaller varieties—Sungolds and Juliets.

And I’ve had a strange thought for September—that I should start thinking about shutting down the Tomato Patch.  Some of my tomato-growing friends have told me they’ve already done that.  But somehow shutting down the Tomato Patch and pulling up the spent vines is something I should do in October, not September.

Maybe I’ll think about that drastic step for 10 days.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tomato Patch: Is It “Mealy, Mushy” Time?

Celebrity tomatoes (and a stink bug)
this morningm when the temperature was in the 40s

The thermometer got me to thinking this morning.  It was 43.7°F just before sunrise, the lowest temperature in the Tomato Patch since I set out the plants in May.

Most veggie gardeners know tomatoes are “warm weather” plants, not “cool weather” plants such as chard, turnips, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Many articles about tomatoes warn not to put them into your refrigerator because the 40°F temperature there will turn them “mealy” or “mushy.”

That was my concern this morning I read the outdoor temperature on our digital thermometer.  Will my “big reds” turn mealy at that temperature?  I vaguely remembered a Washington Post article I had read on the subject years ago, and after some searching on the Internet I found it.

The article is “Chilling Thoughts,” by Robert L. Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh when he wrote this article at the beginning of the tomato season in 2005.  Here’s the question he addressed:  “Why is it that people say it ruins a tomato to put it in the refrigerator?  How can this be?”

I’ll skip his comment about flavor chemicals, which he says do not decompose at cold temperatures.  He then addresses “texture,” which gets us to “mealy” or “mushy.”  Here’s the key part of Wolke’s answer:  “Tomatoes can suffer … ‘chilling injury’ if held at temperatures below about 50 degrees….  The nature and extent of the injury—which mostly involves changes in the tomato’s texture rather than its flavor—depends not only on the temperature and duration of chilling but also on the fruit’s ripeness.  That’s why no simple generalization can be made about the effect of refrigeration on tomatoes.”

The important factors: temperature + duration + ripeness.  Temperature factor is any temperature below 50°.  For duration, long-term chilling is worse than short-term.  On ripeness, Wolke explains that chilling tomatoes not fully ripe stops the ripening process and prevents development of full flavor and color.

How do I apply Wolke’s refrigerator principles to what’s happening in the Tomato Patch? Nighttime temperatures are starting to dip below 50°.  A few dips probably won’t do much damage to taste or texture, especially to fully ripe fruit, but as the weeks pass and low temperatures increase in length, damage potential increases, especially on tomatoes not fully ripe—the kind still growing in the Tomato Patch.

I plan to keep an eye on my tomatoes—the ones the stink bugs didn’t pinprick beyond edibility or the rains of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee didn’t split—and at some point start picking and moving the best looking ones into the garage as protection both from late-season stink bugs and frigid nighttime temperatures.

I don’t plan to start moving them this week.  I’ll monitor local weather forecasts and the condition of remaining tomatoes.  If we have especially cold nights in late September or early October, perhaps I’ll some top-quality breaker-stage tomatoes into the garage.  If the nights stay relatively warm, perhaps I’ll move none.

Alas, fall is coming.  A killing frost will visit many of our gardens within the next month or so.  The end of Tomato Patch 2011 is a sad thought, but then in a few weeks seed catalogs will start arriving to jump start our fantasies about Tomato Patch 2012.

If you’re a genuine tomato freak and wish to read Wolke’s Post column, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Did the Stink Bug Trap Work?

Time to count the trapped stink bugs

Monday was Day 14 of my experiment with the Rescue Stink Bug Trap, and since the manufacturer said the attractant used in the trap was good for two weeks, I decided to take down the trap and count how many brown marmorated stink bugs it had caught.

Trap directions include a section on “Empty and Reload Trap,” but the directions are simpler than actually doing it when there are live stink bugs moving about inside the trap.  To simplify matters, I put an inch of water in a bucket, added a few drops of dishwashing liquid, and then took apart the trap inside the bucket, shaking the “cone” and “trap chamber,” tapping them on the side of the bucket, and occasionally flicking a stink bug into the suds with a finger.

I was surprised at the number of stink bugs in the soapy water, but many were still practicing their best doggy paddles, so I waited for a half hour until the soapy water had taken its toll.  Then I used a plastic spoon to dish out and line up the dead stink bugs on a paper towel for easy counting.

106 stink bugs
Total: 106 brown marmorated stink bugs, from mature adults to early instars (phases), plus a moth, an ant, a host of gnats, and a few other soggy insects that I didn’t recognize.

What’s my opinion of the Rescue Stink Bug Trap? My feelings are mixed.

On the positive side, the trap caught 106 stink bugs, which means those 106 stink bugs won’t be trying to get into our house when the weather cools, perhaps as early as this weekend.  The trap has excellent instructions and was easy to assemble.

On the negative side, considering the number of stink bugs residing at Meadow Glenn, 106 stink bugs are about as significant as one of the commas in the text of this posting.  Before I took the trap down, I looked around its target area.  On the nearby Japanese maple I counted 17 stink bugs on the main trunk and major branches.  Around our front door and on the gutter were another 23.  In short, I think the trap made no appreciable difference in the number of stink bugs we’re dealing with.

What was the cost of stink bugs caught—always an interest of this Frugal Gardener?  A trap retails for about $20.00, so the cost for each stink bug caught was about 19¢.  If you hate stink bugs, that may be an acceptable cost, but if you have thousands or tens of thousands and wish to protect a large area with multiple traps, well, go figure with your calculator. 

Now nine feet from
our front door
What next?  I reassembled the trap and hung it nine feet from our front door, as the trap’s instructions suggest hanging it in late summer or fall “within 10 feet of house to intercept stink bugs before they enter homes to overwinter.”

Before I re-hung the trap, did I replace the two original two-week lures with new seven-week refills as the manufacturer suggests, at a cost of approximately $10?  Another trap user tipped me that original lures last much longer than two weeks, so I’m using the originals still and will check occasionally to see how long they attract the critters, though by frosty mid-October, most stink bugs will have found overwintering spots.

After one day in its new location, the trap has lured seven stink bugs into its “trap chamber.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Frugal Gardener: My $13.67 Greenhouseperhaps

My $13.67 greenhouseperhaps

Finally one of my dreams has come true: I have a greenhouseperhaps.  I bought it for $13.67 at Wal-Mart Saturday night.  I prepared it for installation in less than an hour using one tool, a carpet knife.  Installation in our garden took five minutes.

I’ve oohed and aahed at greenhouses through the years as I’ve leafed through gardening catalogs.  Greenhouse kits for “serious home gardeners” range upward from about $700.  But, really, I’ve told myself, a greenhouse doesn’t fit well on our hillside lot.  And, Frugal Me, I’ve often thought that buying a greenhouse just isn’t too practical for someone who probably won’t be doing “a lot” of gardening 10 years from now.  But, yes, I still pause and fantasize when I see a greenhouse in a catalog. 

Recently I thought that maybe I should “think small.” Why not “build” a very small greenhouse to see how long I can get lettuce to grow in our garden as winter approaches.  I’d call it my greenhouseperhaps until I see if it really works.

I decided to buy a large, translucent, plastic storage container to serve as my greenhouseperhaps.  I’d cut out the bottom, and I could use the top to protect plants growing inside from downpours or even light frosts or snow flurries. 

I cut out the bottom
At Wal-Mart I surveyed available clear or translucent storage containers of varying sizes.  I paid particular attention to heights (so the plants have room to grow) and bottoms (to be cut out so I can plant directly into the garden soil).  I chose a Sterilite 105-quart box that is 13 ¾” high by 19 ¾” wide by 83 1/8” long.  Price: $13.67.

I bought the Sterilite box because I thought the bottom was more soft than rigid so would surrender quickly to my knife.  When I began to cut I discovered the going slow because the sides are molded thicker where they meet, though the center rectangle of the bottom is thinner than its edges.  I used the carpet knife to cut along the line where the thicker edges met the center of the bottom.  This “five-minute job” took nearly 45.  The bottom edges that remain will help anchor the greenhouseperhaps.

My new greenhouseperhaps is now installed in the garden.  I’ve planted three-week young Simpsons Curled and Red Sails lettuce seedlings in one row and Red Sails seeds in another.  About six hours after I planted the lettuce, dark clouds ushered in a 20-minute downpour and I rushed to put on the lid to protect the transplants.  I think the “click handles” will keep the lid in place during fairly strong wind gusts.

Ready for frosty weather?
Will my greenhouseperhaps work?  I’ll let you know in a month or two.  If it works this fall, I think it should work next spring to grow an extra-early crop of lettuce.

I hope my greenhouseperhaps turns into just a plain greenhouse.

And to think it cost only $13.67.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Deer Country: Pawpaw, a Native, Deer-Resistant Fruit Tree

Would your landscape benefit from a native, nearly pest-free, fruit tree that deer don’t eat and which produces delectable, custardy fruit and grows well in relatively small, shaded  spaces—but stinks?

In her “A Cook’s Garden” column, “Return of the native? Papaws’ proponents,” in the Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch recommends the native pawpaw (Asimina trilobia) tree, which is spelled “papaw” in the story but appears in other sources as “paw paw” and “paw-paw,” in addition to “pawpaw.”

Damrosch’s suggestion sounded interesting so I surfed to Wikipedia, which supplied additional information: This native of eastern North America produces large, edible fruit that tastes something like banana custard.  In addition, deer, rabbits, goats, and most insects avoid its “disagreeable smelling” leaves, twigs, and bark, which also contain a natural insect repellent.  In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr says the stems have “fetid odor when broken.”

Disagreeable smelling leaves and branches?  What about its flowers?  Wikipedia describes their “odor” as similar to that of “rotting meat.”  

Dirr points out that pawpaw fruit attracts animals, especially raccoons.   Wikipedia adds foxes, opossums, squirrels, and black bears.  Wikipedia adds that the larvae of the zebra swallowtail butterfly eat the tree’s leaves, which give the butterfly lifelong protection from birds and other predators.

Perhaps the reason pawpaws grow mostly in the wild is their odor potential, but apparently the problem isn’t insurmountable because Damrosch’s article lists nurseries that sell young trees.

If you’re interested in this native, deer- and insect-resistant fruit tree, be fully informed before you invest.  Read the Damrosch and Wikipedia articles, which contain photographs, and do additional research.  For  Damrosch, CLICK HERE.  For Wikipedia, CLICK HERE

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tomato Patch: Ginny's Thick & Quick Tomato Sauce

Ready to make sauce
My tomato sauces for years were, well, unremarkable.  To be honest, sometimes I thought they were more like tomato juice than sauce.  I read magazine and newspaper articles and answers to Frequently Asked Questions in my quest for recipes and how-to-do-it tips that would give me a reasonable amount of thick sauce in a reasonable amount of time.

I blanched and peeled and cooked.  I put raw tomatoes in the blender and then tried to separate thick from thin.  I cooked tomatoes and put them through our food mill and then cooked them some more.  The result usually was a sauce so thin that it barely stained the pasta through which it ran to the plate.  Saucy friends winked and told us how to resolve this dilemma: add a can of store-bought tomato paste to thicken the thin when we used it.

This year, I vowed to “get it right.”  I cooked, milled, cooked, and simmered two batches for more than three hours last month.  One batch yielded three cups and the other four of thin sauce.  I shook my head and said to myself, “They’re still too juicy.  I should have simmered them another hour or two.”

Prepared tomato pieces ready to start simmering
Enough of this culinary futility, I thought.  Five hours of work that yields four cups of thin sauce isn’t reasonable.   The greater bargains in time, effort, and thickness seemed to sit in bottles on shelves of the pasta aisle of our local Giant Food store.

So I surrendered, and when friends visited last weekend, I gave a whole bucket plus a plastic grocery-store bag of paste tomatoes to Ginny B., who said she wanted to make sauce.  A day or so later she called to thank me for the tomatoes.

“How many cups did you get?”  I asked, thinking she might have gotten ten or twelve.

“Twenty-nine,” she replied, “and they’re all in the freezer.”

“Twenty-nine?” I couldn’t believe it.  “Were they juicy like the sauce I make?”

“No, it was thick.”

“What’s your secret?”

This made the difference
Ginny told me how she makes her thick and quick tomato sauce, and I’ve now made three batches.  I have to admit that I’m back in the tomato sauce business again.  I worked on the third batch on Labor Day morning.  Here’s how I did it:

I started with about a half bucket of large paste tomatoes—Big Mamas and Super Marzanos—and a quarter colander of Juliets, a small paste- or Roma-type tomato usually used for snacking.  I washed them, cored them, gouged out the gel and seeds with my thumb, cut off any damaged or otherwise objectionable parts, cut the good stuff into chunks, and filled a six-quart pan nearly to the top.  I brought the tomatoes to slow boil and then simmered them for about 50 minutes.  Then I used a measuring cup to put two-cup batches into our blender and pressed “blend” to break down all the remaining tomato parts.  The measuring cup helped keep things fairly neat and gave me an idea of how much sauce I’d made.

While I was blending the tomatoes, I sautéed an onion and four or five garlic cloves in olive oil in another large pan.  As I finished blending each small batch of tomatoes, I added them to the simmering onion-garlic mix.  When I had all the tomatoes in the second pot, I added some salt and simmered the sauce for another 20 minutes.  Just three or four minutes from the end of the cooking time, I added a handful of thinly sliced basil from our garden.

Beautiful, thick, delicious
The sauce was beautiful, thick, and delicious.  It filled three three-cup freezer containers.  I spent about an hour preparing the tomatoes and another hour for the cooking.  Bottom line: I had doubled the amount of thick sauce in less than half the time. 

All things considered, I think I’ll call this sauce recipe “Ginny’s Thick & Quick Tomato Sauce.”  Thank you, Ginny.  I’ve adapted the procedure from Ginny’s explanation, and if you try to make sauce this way, adapt my outline to your taste and the way you think you want your sauce to taste.

Ginny, for example, doesn’t remove all the seeds from the tomatoes.  She sautés onion and garlic at the beginning and then adds the fresh tomatoes for cooking.  She adds leaves from a couple of sprigs of thyme for additional herbal kick.  She adds fresh basil at the very end, just as she removes turns off the heat.

What tips do you suggest to make this thick-and-quick tomato sauce even better?

Grow It.  Eat It.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Deer Country: Report on ‘Deer Out’ Repellent Experiment

Deer Out protected this
tomato plant
How did my experiment with Deer Out, a mint-based deer repellent spray, turn out? 

I posted on April 3 about the spray and said that I was going to use it on selected plants that were not otherwise protected from our local deer herd.

I followed directions and applied the spray multiple times over the summer.  I sprayed seven hostas that previously had been browsed to stem-only status at least twice each summer; a heuchera that has been annually defoliated; one Virginia Sweets tomato plant that I planted in a front-yard flower garden solely for this experiment; and an arrowwood viburnum shrub that deer love to eat so much that they had broken through my barricade of steel posts and plastic deer fencing.

Even though Deer Out directions say it will last 90 days and will not wash off in rains, fine print indicates that it should be reapplied after especially heavy, but non-defined, downpours.  On the average, I reapplied the spray about every four weeks and especially after heavy rains, such as the multiple inches we got when Hurricane Irene passed up the coast last weekend.

I had bought a 40-ounce ready-to-use spray bottle of Deer Out online ($16.99 + shipping), and it became clear early on that the bottle would empty long before the summer ended, even though I was spraying only 10 plants.  So I ordered a 32-ounce bottle of concentrate ($34.99 + shipping) to complete the summer spray program.  When diluted, the concentrate makes 320 ounces of ready-to-use Deer Out (11¢ per oz.), a saving of nearly 75% over the first ready-to-use bottle (43¢ per oz.).

Deer Out protected this heuchera (coral bells)
If a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s keep this report relatively short and look at photos I took last Wednesday of the plants I sprayed with Deer Out this year.  Let’s look at them in the order I come to them as I walk from our garage with the Deer Out spray bottle in hand:

Deer Out totally protected the Virginia Sweets tomato plant.  Deer hoof prints abound in the mulch around the tomato plant, which was browsed at least once before I first sprayed.  A July thunderstorm toppled the tomato cage because the indeterminate plant had become top heavy, so I pruned the plant severely, and the deer didn’t.  Score +1 for Deer Out.  Brown marmorated stink bugs totally devastated the fruit on this plant so obviously they were not repulsed by Deer Out.

Deer Out totally protected the heuchera (coral bells), a volunteer that popped up the spring after I moved the parent plant to our fenced back yard because it had been browsed so often it appeared to be dying.  In 2009 and 2010, deer browsed nearly every leaf of the young heuchera, leaving only stems.  This year the plant grew and flowered and deer didn’t touch it, though hoof prints indicated they had explored the narrow garden by our front porch.  Score +1 for Deer Out.

Deer Out protected these hostas
Deer Out totally protected our seven hostas, which for years had grown in a bed between our front sidewalk and the wall of our garage and which annually were browsed at least twice.  In defeat, in 2010 I moved them 25 feet or so to the south so visitors wouldn’t ask me what kind of plants I was growing that had only leafless stems.  This year, all seven plants, protected by Deer Out, grew, flowered, and went to seed, though mulch around them was churned several times by deer hoofs.  Several hostas flowered twice, a truly remarkable event here in Deer Country.  Score +7 for Deer Out.

And the final plant—the arrowwood viburnum shrub?  I sprayed it with Deer Out every time I sprayed the other plants.  Even though deer had broken my barricade of steel posts and plastic deer fencing to get to the viburnums, I left the remains of the fence in place during the experiment, which protected one side of the shrub.  By late spring I was feeling the Deer Out was protecting the arrowwood.  But several weeks ago, when does started bringing out their fawns to graze, I discovered twin fawns resting inside the barricade after some heavy browsing or nursing.  Alas, as the photo indicates, Deer Out failed to protect the viburnum, which was browsed just as heavily as the unsprayed arrowwood to its left.  Score -1 for Deer Out.  And, yes, I did smile when I saw the two spotted cuties lounging inside the wrecked barricade.

Deer Out failed to protect the
arrowwood viburnum on the right
With a success rate of 9 out of 10, I’ll judge Deer Out as “very effective.”  I have plenty of the concentrate left, which I plan to use on selected plants next year. 

Why was this spray effective?  I can think of several possible answers.  Perhaps because deer don’t like to eat plants that smell like mint.  Perhaps because I reapplied the spray regularly and generously, especially after downpours and didn’t wait for “90 days” to pass before re-spraying.

And why did the deer browse the arrowwood viburnum?  Perhaps because the shrub was farthest from our house and more deer approached it and one of them happened to be a York Mint candy fan.  Perhaps our herd loves arrowwood leaves so much that neither fence nor spray would deter them.  Perhaps I’d have a more satisfying answer if I could consult with a deer psychologist.

Will Deer Out protect your plants?  The only way is to try it.  But deer “tastes” differ from area to area and herd to herd.  A friend, Ella R., who lives just a few miles from us, sent me an email saying she used Deer Out on her hostas this year and local deer browsed them to the ground.

We’ll most likely have a frost within the next four to six weeks, so I’ve decided last week’s spray application was the last for this year.  I’ve already bought a bundle of steel posts and a roll of welded wire and this winter will build a “proper cage” around the viburnums.  I plan to win this battle with the browsers.

Yes, this is Meadow Glenn, in the heart of Howard County, Maryland, Deer Country, where shrubs and trees are caged and deer run free.  And, yes, this is Meadow Glenn, where next year I’ll be spraying Deer Out once again.

To read my first posting (April 3) about the Deer Out experiment, CLICK HERE. To read my first update (August 3), CLICK HERE.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tomato Patch: Do They Have More Fun in Spain?

Tired of weeding your Tomato Patch? Tired of fighting the stink bugs? Tired of uprighting tomato cages tilted by a passing hurricane? Maybe you’re itching for a good tomato fight.

When I was a teenager in New Jersey and picked tomatoes, it was a big no-no to throw tomatoes at another picker, however inviting on occasion that might have been. But revelers in Buñol, Spain, during the last 70 years or so have perfected the art of throwing tomatoes at each other during their annual “Tomatina.” The juice and—dare I call it—sauce sometimes get deep enough for body surfing. Really—I kid you not.

To see photos from this year’s “Tomatina,” CLICK HERE. And don’t those red projectiles appear to be Romas or a similar paste-type variety?

Smile. And, please, no throwing tomatoes in your garden.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stink Bugs: I’ve Found Hundreds of Them

Stink bugs hiding under lilac leaf

I’ve discovered Stink-Bug Central, at least in the landscape here at Meadow Glenn.

During gardening year 2011 I’ve been alert to brown marmorated stink bug comings and goings, and I’ve posted about some of them. Early this growing season I’d find five or 10 stink bugs on each fruiting head of our developing blackberries and raspberries.  Then they attacked our tomatoes, especially the larger varieties, even before they began changing from green to red.  I planted squash and cucumbers in late June to avoid borer problems but found the late-growing plants were manna from Bob for the stink bugs, which attacked both foliage and fruit.

Last month I noticed stink bugs in fairly large numbers on the trunks and larger limbs of our Japanese maple trees and in lesser numbers on our native maple, oak, dogwood, and redbud trees.

Recently I realized I had ignored our spring-flowering shrubs, so when I pruned a hedge of forsythia on Tuesday, I checked the shrubs and also a nearby lilac bush.  The 20-foot hedge of forsythia was stink-bug free, but the lilac shrub….

Stink bugs on lilac branch
Wow!  Large numbers of stink bugs were hiding in the lilac shrub, especially on leaves shadowed by other leaves and in leaves that had curled a bit.  As I looked closely, I noted major damage to the leaves and new growth.  Surprised, I went to the opposite end of the house to inspect our second lilac.

As I approached the second lilac, I accidentally brushed a low-hanging branch with my right shoulder and then ducked instinctively as a horde of buzzing insects bounced off me.

Hornets?  Wasps?

No, scores of buzzing, flying stink bugs from just one lilac branch.

More stink bugs on lilac branches
I took a close look at both lilacs.  Many leaves hosted groups of four or five.  Large groups—scores of stink bugs—gathered in multiple places on branches.

How many brown marmorated stink bugs were in our two lilacs?  There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, on the two bushes.

If you had stink bugs in your landscape last year and haven’t seen many this year, and if you have a lilac plant, investigate.  You may be shocked at the numbers of bugs you find, and you may know the answer to your question, “Where are the all the stink bugs this year?”

My discovery of stink-bug central may also answer a question about lilacs.

Several weeks ago, Ellen asked, “Did we have any lilac blooms this spring?”

“I can’t remember any,” I replied.  “Perhaps it was the weather.”

Or perhaps in summer and fall 2010 the brown marmorated stink bugs destroyed the buds that would have been lilac blooms in spring 2011.

Seems possible to me.

What do you think?