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Archive for the ‘Vegetable Gardening’ Category

SVB Moth

Tonight whilst meandering out in my garden, I came fact-to-face with my nemesis, the beast that every year since I have gardened has laid its wicked spawn that killed my beloved butternut squash three times. I have never laid eyes upon this evil vermin, only its slimy, icky, destructive progeny. Tonight I saw it, and I shuddered. (Cue Jaws-themed inpending doom music):

It was the Squash Vine Moth, vile mother of the evil, insidious, pestilent, slimy, icky, groddy . . . SQUASH VINE BORER!!!! (high-pitched, hysterical female scream)

I steeled myself and faced my foe, determined and unafraid. I bravely considered my plan of attack, thinking, Um, but first I need to Google this and make sure what this critter is . . .

So I took a quick detour to find out if this indeed was my bitter enemy. Well, to be honest, since it was lurking out amongst my yellow summer squash, I thought it might be my other enemy that decimated my yellow squash last summer, the evil Squash Bug. I Googled “Squash Bug,” and nope, wasn’t it. Then I Googled Squash Vine Borer, and yup, thar she was in all her wicked glory, looking just like the be-ach out there squatting upon one of my yellow squash leaves.

Now I knew who my enemy was, and I was ready to form a plan to destroy her. But first, I wanted to get a picture of my own. I mean, y’all have to see her, right? So I got my camera, went back outside to my yellow squash plant and told her, Smile, because you’re about to die! Mwahahahaha!  Then I snapped her picture. She actually was a pretty creature, and I loved her vivid red and green coloring, but her beauty wasn’t gonna save her. She had to die.

Then I had to decide how I was going to kill her. To be honest, I really hate killing anything, even if it is threatening to kill my plants. Must be because I was a Buddist in another life – or was that Catholic – or maybe nudist – uh, oh never mind. I just hate killing anything, even pests – it always makes me feel guilty, no matter how destructive the critter. So I grabbed a jar, placed it under the leaf the moth was on, and shook the leaf. The SVB moth tumbled in with nary a struggle. Too frickin’ easy. I screwed on the lid and then placed the jar in the grass while I decided what to do.

I decided to plant the datura I bought at Natural Gardener this past weekend. Yes, I know I just planted a bunch of moonflower seeds, but I realized they weren’t the same ones that grow out at Leb Shomea where I went last summer. Natural Gardener had datura (which is also known as moonflower), and I knew this was it, and that was what I wanted. I know I’ll be very happy with the moonflowers that are growing from the seeds I planted, but I really did want what grows out at Leb Shomea.

SVB Moth in Jar

So, since I still didn’t know how I was going to kill the SVB moth, I dug a hole and planted the datura. Then I checked all my squash plants for any more SVB moths, gave them a second, and more thorough, dusting of diatomaceous earth (I’d given them all a little dusting the previous night since I figured SVB season was coming upon me quickly), cleaned up a little around the patio, grabbed the jar with the moth and went inside to take a picture of it in the jar.

Then I considered how to kill it. I thought about putting water in the jar or flushing it down the toilet, but that seemed sort of a cruel, prolonged death by drowning. So I decided to take it back outside, shake it out on the patio and then stomp it to death with my foot. A relatively quick death for the moth. I stomped it three times to make sure it was good and dead, more so it wouldn’t be suffering than because of any enraged venom I have toward the SVB moth and its gross progeny. I didn’t feel great about doing it, but I knew it was either the moth or my squash and I ain’t given up my squash that easily this time. So the SVB moth had to die, and so will any others I lay my eyes on.

I hope that’s the only SVB moth that lights upon my squash, but I’m ready to do battle if need be. I want my squash, damnit, and the SVB ain’t gettin’ any this year!

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My Butternut and Delicata Squash

Once again this year I am trying to grow beans and squash. The first year, as an experiment, I planted some black-eyed peas in a container. They came up and produced a few pods, but not much. Last year I didn’t have much success with the Kentucky Wonder beans and bush/soup beans that I planted, nor with the yellow squash I planted, and if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know all about my ongoing struggle with butternut squash and the dreaded, evil SVB (Squash Vine Borer) since I started my garden in 2008. And last year I tried planting delicata squash with the butternut squash and it never came up at all.  So you’d think that I’d just give it up, this being my third year of gardening, and the third time to try beans and squash.

But the third time is a charm, and this year will be different, I have determined. It already has been different. This year I bought bean innoculant for all my beans, and instead of coming up all puny and anemic like they did last year, they have all come up thick and rich and green and, in the case of the pole beans (Kentucky Wonder and Scarlett Runner), they are eager to climb whatever they can! I installed a net trellis in the raised bed with yellow summer squash and the pole beans on the back row, and for the beans in the row in front of them, I set up two bean teepees from  branches I saved last year when I cut off some really low branches on my Bradford Pear tree. And so the pole beans have plenty to climb up on, and they are going to town.

Bean Teepee

I had also foolishly planted Scarlett Runner beans (from the bean seeds I had left from the Hummingbird Garden) right in front of the yellow squash, and I later realized that if I set up bean teepees with the Scarlett Runners it could block sun from the squash. I know beans don’t transplant well, and I didn’t really have a good place to transplant them anyway. But I really hated to pull them out and throw them away – it seemed like such a waste (I also hate to thin plantings for the same reason). So as their vines get longer, I am successfully training them to go up on the bean teepees on each side of them.

As of this writing, I also have three healthy plants each of yellow squash, butternut squash, and ta-dah! – delicata squash!  Not sure why the delicata came up this year when it didn’t last year; I used the same packet of seeds as I did this year, but in any case, I’m please that they all came out. And all of the squash plants have tiny flower buds on them!

Of course, now that my bean and squash babies have survived the initial “birthing” process, my thoughts turn to pests – how do I prevent them, or at least, keep them from getting out of hand? Last year I never got any yellow squash because I got squash bug and noticed it too late, and I did have another attack of SVB on the butternut squash, but fortunately it only got one plant and I was able to save the other one and kept a sharp eye out for any SVB eggs. The borage I planted may have also helped, but this year I didn’t plant borage right in front of either beds that contain squash, though there is borage nearby.

Yardener.com offers several solutions to the dreaded SVB, one of which I’ve already done, which is to use Garlic Barrier to repel the moths that lay the eggs that hatch the larvae that burrow into the the vine that destroys the plant (yes, this sounds like an annoying children’s song). Another solution I might also try is to dust the plant with diatomaceous earth to prevent any larvae from entering the stem, although what it will really do is slice those little suckers like glass (Bwahahahaha), which yeah, certainly prevents them from entering the stem! 

I could also use row cover, but it’s such a pain in the you-know-what to lift it up, check yer plants, or harvest, or whatever and then cover it back up again and seal all the edges. And I’m too lazy to do all that. So I’ll keep using the Garlic Barrier as repellent, and try dusting with diatomaceous earth and keeping a good eye on my plants.

I just did a little research on bean pests and diseases, and prevention of pests and diseases for beans does not seem to be as cut and dried as it seems to be for squash.  It makes me tired to think about it. And I realize that I probably over-planted beans. I kept with Mel B.’s (of Square Foot Gardening fame) recommendation of planting 9 pole beans and 8 bush beans per square foot, and even for one square it just really seems like too much, plus I planted not just one square of pole beans and one of bush beans, but 6 squares of pole beans and 8 squares of bush beans, and this doesn’t even count all the runner beans I planted in the Hummingbird Garden! Jeez Loueeze, even if all my bean plants survive and thrive, I’ll have more beans than I can possibly ever eat! Oh well. Guess I’ll have to share my bounty with family, friends and neighbors!

However, I do wonder if crowding the beans like I have is good for them. I wonder if I should thin them out some, but again, I hate the thought of thining them out. Well, anyway, like I said, it just makes me tired to think about. Guess I’ll join Scarlett O’Hara and say, “Tomorrow is another day.” I’ll worry about it then.

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As promised, tonight I bring to you the heart-breaking saga of the second Squash Vine Borer (hereafter known as SVB) attack on my beloved b-nut squash.

After neglecting to meticulously inspect my butternut squash vines due to reading somewhere that the dreaded SVB ceases attacking after August, I was horrified to find one Sunday morning three weeks ago that the SVB had revisited, leaving its progeny to decimate my b-nut squash. I had noticed some time before that the leaves on the vine were sort of withering up and turning yellow, but I thought maybe it was because they were older leaves. My squash fruit seemed OK, though small, and I just stood stubbornly steadfast in believing what I read, that I had nothing to fear from SVB after August.

But of course, this is Central Texas, where we continue to experience summer, or at least late spring-like temps well into November. Duh! I fergot! Which means it’s still perfect weather for the SVB to go a-laying its little eggs.

In any case, as I watered the squash that fateful Sunday morn, I decided to remove some of the dead leaves. As I removed them, I noticed the tell-tale sign of SVB infestation: SVB “sawdust.” You can see a picture of it below, after this post. Now, up til this point, I’d never seen it before, but I had read about it, and I knew that this had to be it. Then I found some dark eggs, and more “sawdust.” Then I removed some vine where I found the sawdust, and striped back the stem: yup, there it was, an ugly, slimy, segmented, inch-long larvae munching its way through the vine.

Well, I was essentially heartsick, and mad at myself for being so lax in checking for signs of SVB. I decided I’d try to save my b-nut squash as much as I could, and so cut back vine, but I kept finding more signs of infestation.  I wound up basically ripping out one of the squash plants. Amazingly enough, the other plant didn’t seem to be infested at all, so I was able to keep that. I was so grateful that I had one un-infested plant!

My first-b-nut squash (and some acorns) -- very fall-y

Unfortunately, the plant I had to rip out had all the fruit on it. However, while the fruit was relatively small, it didn’t look like it had been infested. I understand that SVB larvae like to eat the vine, but leave the squash fruit alone. I decided not to throw them out and see if I could still use them. You can see a pix of them to the right.

I was a little worried that maybe the squash was infested when I saw some larvae creeping on the counter I sat them on. I decided if any more crept out that I would cut the squash open to see if it was infested and throw them out if so, and cook them if not. But no more crept out, so I decided to keep them intact until I was ready to cook them.

Last weekend I used one of the squash to make a lentil-ginger-butternut squash soup, and as I tentatively cut up the squash, expecting it to perhaps have some larvae deep within, there was none. I also wondered if the flesh would be any good. I had figured that the reason the fruit was small was that the SVB larvae had stunted the growth of the fruit as they ate up the vine, which is the lifeline for the fruit. So I wondered if it would really be ripe, but when I cut the squash open, the flesh was nice and orange like any b-nut squash I’ve bought from the grocery store. And it worked just great in the soup, so I was very pleased. The soup itself cooked into such a mash that it was hard to pick out exact flavors of some of the ingredients, but there was no bitter flavor that might accompany an unripe squash.

As for my intact b-nut squash plant, I have fertilized it and I now check over it as often as I can. So far no SVB infestation as far as I can tell, and it’s now starting to produce some more fruit, so I should continue to have squash for this season.  I think, however, that the fruit is just going to be small, as I’ve got one that is maturing that isn’t much bigger than the others I harvested earlier.

I figure that growing veggies in containers may lead to smaller veggies. This seems to be the case with the Malabar spinach that I’m growing in a container; its leaves are a lot smaller than the ones of the Malabar spinach in the square foot garden. Maybe it’s because the root system has limited room in which to spread, I don’t know. It’s not a bad thing; the produce still tastes good, it’s just that it’s smaller.

In any case, I’m just glad I was able to save the other b-nut squash plant, and glad I have more fruit growing on it. From now on I will make sure I keep a sharp look-out for any SVB infestation!

Because I couldn’t ever find pictures of either the SVB sawdust or pix of the larvae on the Internet, I decided to take some pix for others who might be curious what to look for. Unfortunately these pix are not in focus very well, but hopefully you can see the sawdust and the larvae. The first picture is of a squash stem with sawdust hanging off of it. The picture caty-corner to it is one of a stem pulled back and exposing the larvae. It’s all white, slimy and segmented and shows up in the middle of the stem.

SVB sawdust on squash stem

SVB sawdust on squash stem

Can you see the icky, slimy SVB larvae?

Can you see the icky, slimy SVB larvae?

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I tell ya, raising veggies and fruit (and cats) is almost as nerve-wracking as what I imagine raising kids is. After a day at the old soul-sucking job, I get home, love on my furry babies, change clothes and go check on my green babies, and whatta ya know, I’ve got two more wilted squash fruits. Fear courses through my veins – is it the dreaded squash vine borer redux? I pulled off the very brown and wilted smaller fruit and dissected it — no larvae. Then I took the larger one, one of the many that I thought were fertilized and getting big, but that I’d noticed was looking kinda withered even when I got home from out of town earlier. Now it was looking sadder, though not brown and withered like the other one. First, however, I decided to remove my contacts and put on my glasses, because irony of ironies, as I get older, I get more farsighted with my contacts, but can still see OK with my glasses. I still needed to wait for my eyes to adjust to the glasses before I dissected the other fruit.

In the meantime, I poured over searches on squash bug, and found that squash bug just eat the leaves and vines, not the fruit so much. Then I read more about the borer. Supposedly butternut squash are pretty resistant to that, and the borer seems to also go more for the leaves and vines than the fruit. But I know I had larvae with the first batch of squash. Then I find out about pickleworm – ah, yes, they also produce larvae, and the larvae do like the fruit! But again, B-nut is suppose to be more resistant to that. But still, there are always exceptions, and I did have larvae the first time. I figured it might have been pickleworm then, and was worried that it was pickleworm, or borer, this time.

With my eyes good and focused, I took the other squash fruit and started dissecting it. Nothing, no larvae, nada, zip, zilch. There was still plenty of good fruit, unlike the other one I’d dissected, so it wasn’t like it had been destroyed and the larvae had moved on. There still should have been something in there still munching away. Also, no tell-tale entry holes.

Then it occured to me — is it possible that these fruits hadn’t been fertilized, and so were withering up like barren old maids? Did another search, and yep, that looks to be the case. I guess I had assumed that since I had a bunch of big healthy young female fruits when I’d gotten home from out of town that the male flowers had burst forth like hormonally driven teenage boys and had impregnated my girls while I was gone. But then I couldn’t remember any male flowers on the cusp of blooming when I left. Which may mean, unless some boys did indeed bloom when I was gone, that my four or five beautiful big young girls are gonna drop off too, wilting from lack of male attention. It is possible that some guys snuck over while I was gone, did their dirty work and dropped off before I got back, but we will just have to wait and see what happens.

There are male blooms starting to come out and mature now, but like the case with humans, there have been several girls that have blossomed forth and matured much faster than the boys have, of course. There are several baby girls starting to show their tiny green and curvy selves, but they are smaller than the boys, so I hope everybody gets it together and matures around the same time! I want some butternut squash dadgum it, and the more teen pregnancies I have here, the better! And no, we won’t talk about Alaska on this blog — I try to keep it apolitical here cuz I want everybody to feel welcome, Republican, Democrat, Libertine, what have you, though I do admit I’m waiting excitedly for a tee shirt, buttons, yard sign and car magnet from my favorite Chicago-area politician, and it ain’t Mayor Richard Daly!

Anywhoo, we’ll just have to wait and see. In any case, I hope my girls did get fertilized while I was gone. I was really hoping I had a good head start to some B-nut squash!

My meager b-eyed pea harvest

My meager b-eyed pea harvest

On another front, I’d forgotten last night to include an update on my black-eyed pea experiment. Well, as you can see, I did get a few pods, which I shelled, see pic to the right, though I think I picked them a bit too soon. I ate one raw, which was OK, but not great. I left the peas out and they just dried up, so I threw them away and put the pods in my compost pile. In any case, I realize that if I grow black-eyed peas I’m either going to have to use several seeds to get a decent harvest if I use seeds from peas I buy at the grocery store, or I’m going to have to buy a high-yield variety and plant that. I’m not sure even planting a whole 4×4 SFG with nothing but b-eyed peas from the bulk bin at the grocery store will produce enough to eat at more than one meal! But it was still fun to get some pods, and opening them reminded me of the time when I was about 11 years old visiting my grandparents on their cotton farm in West Texas. My Mamaw had a huge veggie garden, and that summer she had harvested a bunch of what I think were black-eyed peas, and then she taught me how to shell them. Course this time around I’d forgotten what she’d taught me, and didn’t remember til I shucked the last pod. Oh well!

This concludes this round of my garden update. I do have a goji berry bush and blueberry bush in containers, but they need another year before they start fruiting, and there’s not a lot to report there. And I plan to devote a future posting to goji berry in general, and mine own bush to some extent in particular.

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Them's some big squash leaves thare . . .

Wow, now if only the squash fruit gets just as big, I’ll have a fab crop of B-nut squash! I am so happy to report that after my failed first go-round with planting butternut squash in a large container earlier this summer, I’ve now got vines out the wazoo, with big, healthy leaves and lots of big healthy baby squash and squash blossums. It is truly amazing what some good fertilizer and vigilance will do!

It was really heartbreaking earlier when I first planted the squash seeds from an organic butternut squash I’d bought at Whole Paycheck, I mean, Whole Foods earlier this spring. It started out so beautifully. I got it on the trellis, and it started popping out some little baby squash, but then it started getting yellow in places, and some of the squash started shriveling up. It reminded me of the disappointing venture I had last year at the apartment when I tried to grow some container cukes. They did the same thing, and I’d thought then it was disease. But nope, turns out that the likely culprit of both devastations was a mean little critter called a squash vine borer.

Late at night and early in the morning these little pests land on the curb family (I’m using the abbreviation cuz I don’t think I can spell the proper name without having to look it up, which I’m too lazy to do), which includes all squashes and cukes, lays little dark eggs at the base of the plant, and when the eggs hatch, evil little larvae burrow into the plant, suck it dry and then crawl into the soil to mature. This bore (no pun intended) itself out when I pinched back a dying baby squash to find a groddy little larvae high-tailing it into the stem, hoping I didn’t see it — but I did. Then as I did research, I realized that the little dark specks I’d seen earlier on the stems were the eggs- wish I’d realized it then. I had no idea. And I’m certain this is what destroyed my cukes last year — the vines grew, and little cukes would come out, but they’d wither away before they had a chance to grow. And that was what was happening to my beloved butternut squash plant.

So with a heavy heart, I yanked them out of the container, grabbed a couple more seeds, let them soak in water about 30 minutes, and planted them again. I was determined to have me some B-nut squash this fall! This time I didn’t shield them from the sun, and this time they popped up, I think even faster than the other ones did. And man, did they grow fast! They were growing fast even before I decided to put some organic fertilizer I’d inherited from my next-door apartment neighbor when she moved. 

And then boy, did they explode! The leaves got huge, and so did the budding squash blossums. I’d decided to add fertilizer, because I kept reading that the healthier your plants, the more resistant they are to pest and disease. Now, don’t tell ol’ Mel B ( of SFG fame, not the Spice Girl) that I did that, cuz he feels that if you’ve got good compost, you shouldn’t need fertilizer. Now the compost I used in the container was some I’d had left that I’d bought from Whole Foods last year, and not the really great LadyBug Compost, which I used with the malabar spinach in my tiny SFG to great success. So ol’ Mel can rest assured that great compost gets you great healthy plants, while not-so great compost gets you so-so results. When ya got not-so-great compost, ya add some great organic fertilizer.

In any case, the fertilizer I used seemed to do the trick. Green, green vines and humongous green leaves,

Beauty-ful yellow squash blossum

Beauty-ful yellow squash blossum & healthy baby squash

huge yellow beautiful yellow squash blossums and healthy baby fruit (see pic, right), and so far it seems, no infestation of squash vine borer! I have also made garlic tea and sprayed it periodically on the whole plant, which seems also to help a lot. I had to go out of town for a few days last week and contemplated putting row cover over it to protect it while I was gone, but I didn’t want my cat sitter to have to deal with removing it to water, so I let it go. The plant was still very, very healty when I got home, and the baby squash looks very healthy and is getting bigger by the day.

I had a little bit of a scare when I saw one of the squash looking a little withered, and I decided to go ahead and remove it, open it up and see if there was any larvae. I couldn’t find any. There may have been a squash bug (also known as stink bugs) that sucked on it. Those are a different sort of pesky squash critter that munch on the outside, as oppose to the inside, of squash. I also found on the backs of the leaves some patches of what looked like squash bug eggs. I sprayed the vine with garlic spray, and did my best to remove as many of the eggs off the leaves as I could. The vines weren’t that infested, and the eggs come of very easy and seemed to be destroyed just by rubbing them off the leaf. I will continue to be vigilant however, and look to have a successful crop this fall.

My next challenge, I think, will be managing the vines. Like the last time, I let both vines from each seed grow, even though Mel and the literature tell you to remove one of them. I just couldn’t do it. So now I gotta a lotta vine. Eventually, I may have to remove one, but I hope I can grow them both without too much trouble. But the vines are just growing like mad, and I’m not sure the trellis I have will be big enough. Then I’ll have to figure out how to support the squash fruit themselves on the trellis as they get bigger. I’ve read that if you’re trellising squash you can support the fruit with pantyhose(!), but I’m concerned that I’m going to have so much squash that there won’t be enough room to support them all on the trellis! It may just look like one big pantyhose convention as it is! Not that I’m complaining — I love butternut squash, and will be happy if I can grow a ton of it. It would be nice, however, if I could find pix of butternut squash, or other big winter squash growing on a trellis to see what others are doing. I also wonder if the vines can be trimmed? I need to find that out as well. If any of you readers know, please, pretty please with squash on top, leave me a comment below.

It does excite me, in my little B-nut squash experience that thus far: 1) I’ve been able to grow big, healthy vines from seed I saved from organic produce I bought and 2) that I’ve been able thus far to grow it in a container. When I started out in this experiment, I couldn’t find much on how to grow one in a container, only that it might be possible with a large container. Also, I wanted to do this as much for others who can only grow things in containers, like apartment or condo dwellers, or those who can’t bend down to garden, as much as for me, and I want others to see that you don’t need yardage to grow veggies and fruits.

Before I even got the house, I aspired to become self-sufficient even in an apartment, and my original idea and goal was to show how anyone, anywhere, can become self-sufficient. I had already started to do some container gardening at my apartment, and was looking to expand further. The house came to me as an unexpected blessing and surprise, and enabled me to expand my horizons to urban farming in an urban backyard, utilizing square foot gardening, and perhaps other methods, like lasagna gardening, and Mittlieder gardening that I hope to experiment with later. But, partly because I wasn’t ready to do full-on-out urban gardening and SFG, and partly because I wanted to help those who can only do container gardening, I decided to do things like try to grow butternut squash and black-eyed peas from seeds saved from organic produce at the store in containers, and grow malabar spinach and fruit (like dwarf pomegranate, blueberries and goji berries) in containers, along with my SFG experiment with the other malabar spinach plant and basil.

In any case, I hope that as I experiment others can learn from what I am doing and become inspired to do some gardening, and even become more self-sufficient, as I am doing. Right now we are living in some challenging times economically, environmentally, health-wise, etc., but these challenges are providing us with some really fab opportunities. More people are taking up urban farming and learning to rely less on the grocery store and more on themselves, while saving money, the environment, their health, and heck, maybe even their souls! I know that it has given me a wonderful passion that has enriched my own life and soul, and that I know will continue to deepen as I garden more and more and do more things to become self-sufficient. I am excited about this little adventure that I am on, and I hope you get inspired to embark on your own!

Ah-hum . . . well, guess I got a little carried away there. But, to partially quote one of our former local deli owners in a commercial he did for years and years — I just can’t help it! I gotta tell ya!

And now, inspiring speech over, I gotta go to bed! 😉

 

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Well, I had hopped to keep things up to date a bit more with this here blog, but life just kinda conspires against ya sometimes, doesn’t it? I’ve been a busy little beaver this summer, though unfortunately I haven’t been as busy as I would have liked to have been with my green babies. In spite of this, quite a bit has been going on with my little garden. Everything seems to be thriving, and I’ve actually been able to eat some of the foods that I grew mahself! 

I’ve got quite a bit of updating to do, so I’m going to break this down into several parters w/ pix. Tonight, we will start with the Monster Malabar and Basil!

Lookit them thar greens!

Lookit them thar greens!

I am particularly proud of my malabar spinach and basil, which have grown by leaps and bounds. Both of these have been very, very easy to grow. I’ve grown basil before, but the malabar has been a new adventure. I highly recommend growing it — it has got to be the easiest thing I’ve ever grown. All you have to do is make sure it gets enough water, especially in the summer, give it something to climb on, and it just takes off. It is a beautiful climbing vine, with lovely heart-shaped rich green leaves, offset by deep gorgeous purple stalks and veins. The photo here really doesn’t do it justice.

One caveat though: I don’t think it does as well in a container. I am also growing another malabar spinach in an approximately 3 gallon container, and I really think if it’s grown in a container, it needs to be much larger. The stalk does grow long, and it looks healthy enough, but the leaves do not get nearly as big and full as it did in my little SFG, and the color isn’t as rich. I think it might have done well in a 15 gallon container, like the one I’m growing butternut squash in. It just seems to need a bit more room to really let itself go.

But whether you grow malabar spinach in an SFG, a container, or in the ground, you really need to give it something to climb on, because it is definitely a climber. For the SFG, I took some steel posts that I bought from Home Depot and then I attached plastic chicken “wire” to it. However, you have to train the spinach, and you will have to help it by periodically weaving it through the holes in your trellis. I have kind of haphazardly woven mine, but I think next year I will make a taller trellis for it, rather than weave it around in such a katy-whompus way, though I still think it’s really pretty and interesting that way. For the malabar in the container, I just took the plastic chicken “wire” and attached it to a bambo trellis.

Malabar spinach is also wonderful cooked. Stir-fried in olive oil and onion, it is absolutely delish! You do want to cook it, though — the flavor is too strong for a salad, I think. I have also eaten it with my miso and tahini sauce on it, and this seems to give it kind of a smokey, almost bacony flavor, which is very nice. To make the sauce, I take mellow white miso and then it with water to a creamy consistency, then I add a little tahini and stir it together. You can also add some lemon juice for a little zip, but I often just use water. It is really good and easy and is wonderful with any kind of greens. Yum!

As for the basil, I have used some of it in my homemade lasagna, and it was fab. But I have so much basil growing now, that I think I’m going to have to start making some pesto! Not that I’m complaining! 🙂

Next in my Garden Update: Dwarf Pomegranates!

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Certainly the title of this post is not as sexy as say, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” or even the title of the new Indy movie, “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” but I feel it is apropos of my experience creating my tiny square foot garden yesterday.

Cutting through dense and difficult vegetation, dealing with creepy critters, enduring intense heat and humidity, lifting heavy objects beyond my natural ability, the sweat literally pouring off my brow, the theme music from the Indy movie series played loudly in my brain and like Indy probably often felt, I realized I’d bitten off far more than I could chew.

The night before I embarked on my SFG journey, I reread the parts of Mel Bartholomew’s Bible of SFG, All New Square Foot Gardening and in it, after telling you to put the box in your chosen location, he gives a very brief and casual mention, “(oh yes and by the way) remove grass or weeds.” Hum. Well, I thought it wouldn’t be any big deal. I’ve got a shovel, it’s just some grass, I can deal with it.

Well, I showed up at my little chosen plot at 10 a.m. Sunday morning, took my shovel and shoved it into the earth, and . . . the sod hardly budged.

It was already hot, and humid, as late May mornings and days are wont to do in Central Texas. I was already sweating. I contemplated just putting down the corn-based, biofriendly weed cloth I’d bought at Home Depot the day before and doing my SFG without removing the grass. I decided to read the directions on the weed cloth to see if it would confirm for me that this was a good thing to do, but all it said was: “For best results, remove grass and weeds.” Hum. Damn.

I still thought about just putting down the weed cloth, but visions of thousands of blades of grass poking their way up through my weed cloth and six inches of dirt to find the sun and drown out my little veggies wafted through my brain. I didn’t want that now, did I? I also thought about just putting down plastic to kill the grass, but that could take weeks. Weed killer was not an option, as I greatly value organic, environmentally friendly garden growing, and this was neither. So, in zen-like acceptance, I grabbed my little trowel, sat on the ground, and began to work.

It seemed a little easier with the trowel, although once I cleared out some grass, I found that one thing that speeded things up a bit was to use the shovel to loosen the ground and roots beneath the grass and then get back down on the ground with my trowel to finish it off . However, I was sitting in the hot Texas sun in something like almost 100 degrees and  120 percent humidity (I exaggerate on the humidity, but it must have been close). I did have a big bottle of water nearby and a nice big shady hat I’d bought in Hawaii to cruise down the Hanalei River in Kuai with a long-ago ex-boyfriend, so I figured I would be OK.

Even so, it was probably very foolish of me to do this in the heat. I probably should have waited until Monday, gotten up at the crack of dawn to do my work then, but I had planned on doing this on Sunday, I wanted it done, and by gum and by golly, that’s what I was going to do. I come from a long line of stubborn Irish, so foolishly I walked in where angels fear to suffer heatstroke. So kids, don’t try this at home, especially if you live in Texas. Do this either in early or mid-spring or the early morning in late spring/summer!

So there I was, sweating, getting very dirty, hacking through ten year’s worth of grass that was woven together in an intricate web of shoots and roots. I unearthed several roly-poly bugs and a worm or two, and felt guilty that I was disturbing their home. I would very carefully move each critter I saw so I wouldn’t do any damage to it. Unbelievably, I seldom cursed through the whole thing (I’ve been known to curse to embarrass a sailor when things don’t go my way), but maybe all those years of meditation and prayer and spiritual initiations I’ve done have finally kicked in.

I did, however, decide that I was not going to do this with the larger 4×4 SFGs I will be doing in the near future. If I have to put down plastic first to kill the grass, I’ll do that, or build my SFGs with a plywood bottom, to keep out the grass.  I did console myself with the fact that the sod I was digging up would make some really good homegrown compost!

Anywho, I finally got the damn thing dug, and I rejoiced. Mightily! You can see my handiwork below. My SFG Plot - more difficult than it looks!One problem, however: I didn’t quite dig enough, and my concrete blocks were all crooked. So I had to dig some more, but finally I got it all to work out. It’s not perfect, mind you, but it’s good enough for government work, as my wonderful and recently departed stepfather use to say.

I was just going to get the container for the SFG done and then mix the dirt and plant on Monday. It was almost noon and getting hotter and humider by the minute (yes, I know humider is not a word, but I like hotter and humider, not hotter and more humid). I went inside, ate lunch, contemplated taking a nap, but then I went back out to look at my handiwork again, and it felt cooler somehow, and I amazingly was not all that tired.  I put back on my Hawaiian hat (that I later found out was made in Mexico) and went back out to mix dirt and plant plants!

Well, it wasn’t really less hot or humid, I just had cooled off inside, so of course it felt cooler when I first went back out. I soon began sweating profusely again. But I was determined to finish. However, I moved to some shade nearby to mix the dirt. I mixed it as closely as I could per Mel’s instructions: 1/3 spaghum moss (or peat moss, as I said, not so eco-friendly); 1/3 perlite (Mel likes vermiculite, which is hard to find); and 1/3 compost. For me, it took a bag and half of 432 cubic inches of spaghum moss, a bag and a half of perlite (can’t remember the size, but they’re relatively small bags) and almost two bags of 1.5 cubic feet of John Dromgoole’s Ladybug Revitilizer Compost I got from the Natural Gardener. Mel recommends mixing in a tarp, but I used an old shower curtain instead.

 Mel also recommends if you buy compost to buy 5 different kinds because he says most companies only use one kind and you need at least 5 different kinds to get all the important nutrients. However, Mel has never been to Natural Gardner here in Austin, and the Revitilizer Compost is a blend of 5 different kinds of compost, so you save a lot of money that way! If you don’t live in or near Austin, TX, just look at your bags of compost at the store to see if they are a blended compost and have at least 5 types of compost , rather than buy 5 bags of different compost, as Mel advises.

Now this was dirt not just for a 1×2 foot garden, but also for all the little holes in the concrete block, into which I planted basil seeds for fun. So I estimate that rather than a 1×2 foot garden, I had an extra 6-8 feet in the concrete block holes. If I had just filled in the middle, I would have only needed 2/3 bag of the spaghum moss, 2/3 bag perlite and one bag of the compost.

After I got the dirt in the garden, I got one of my Crista Compact tomato plants (the other I’d already Voila-a tiny SFG!planted in a container) and one of my Malabar spinach, drew a line to half the garden into one foot each, and planted each plant in the middle of each square foot, and then I watered it. Then I planted my basil seeds from seeds I’d saved last year from my basil plant. At first I planted two seeds per concrete block hole, but then I got lazy because it’s a bit difficult to gather just two tiny basil seeds, and I planted more than that in the other holes. Anyway, I hope they take! Look to the right to see my beautiful new SF garden!

Then, feeling even more industrious, I decided to get my dirt ready for my big planter to plant some butternut squash seeds. I had some leftover regular Whole Foods organic dirt, and I’d bought some Ladybug Hill Country Garden soil – I didn’t do the Mel’s Mix for the containers, because I wanted to see which soil grew better stuff, because I might just use regular soil for future SFGs if that works well for my container veggies, with some compost thrown in.

Anyway, I began mixing the Ladybug and Whole Foods soils with my extra perlite in my handy dandy shower curtain, and then I began to shovel it into the planter. However, I was in direct sun now and I’d been outside for quite a while and was very hot. Suddenly, internally I heard in my mind, “You really need to go inside now,” which I figured was the Divine trying to talk some sense into me. I, of course, being the good human being that I am, I ignored it. Then after a couple more shovelfuls of dirt I heard more loudly, “Get inside RIGHT NOW!!!!” Then I figured that if I didn’t go in right then, I was going to have a heatstroke, so I said, “OK, OK,” threw down my shovel and went dutifully back in to drink more water and cool off for a while.

I kept thinking I would lay down and take a nap, but after cooling off, I still had energy, so I went back outside and continued with my dirt. I then realized I didn’t have enough dirt for the planter, so I resolved to buy some more on Monday, and use some dirt to plant my other Malabar spinach plant in a container, to see how it did in that.

My Funky ComposterNow, after doing all that, you’d think I’d go inside, take a shower and then take a nap, but noooo, I still had this unbelievable energy. I went back outside, unfurled my chicken wire I’d bought the day before and built my simple composter! It wasn’t very easy, but I managed to unfurl it enough to weave 4 stakes through it to hold it and then get it set up in my side yard where I hope to eventually get a gate to create a small utility yard to hide it and other not so beautiful yard tools. And it certainly isn’t beautiful or perfect, but it will do the job of containing my compost and letting it aerate so it won’t get smelly, while allowing me to turn it, which is very important for getting compost. You can see my composter to the left.

I cleaned up my mess outside, laid out the sod on my shower curtain so it could dry before being put in the composter (Mel says it’s best to let grass dry first or it gets slimy and smelly in the composter), and went inside. I still didn’t shower and rest, however. I fixed the guest toilet connector, which had been leaking for about a week, rather than pay a plumber several hundred dollars to do. It cost 5 bucks and about 30 minutes of my time. Then I took a shower, but I didn’t nap – I made myself a lovely dinner of a spinach and avocado omelet along with a slice of the bread I’d made before, and some leftover refried beans from lunch and enjoyed.  What a self-sufficient day!

POST NOTE: Later that evening, I was looking at Mel’s web site at http://www.squarefootgardening.com/, and I came across a question on his FAQ about protecting your SFG from grass and weeds, and there, on the web site, he says, Back to the weeds, I would mow them down and then cover the ground with a landscape cloth. You mean I really could have just laid down my weed cloth rather than dig the dang stuff out? Why the heck and tarnation (I had to edit out what I really wanted to say) didn’t he just say that in the book?! Oh well — like I said earlier, now I’ve got some really good material for my compost!

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