Sarah's Garden Week 9: Flowers and some pest musings

(Editor’s Note: Due to an unavailable editor AGAIN, Sarah’s column is appearing a day later than its usual Thursday slot. Enjoy – DP)

I can't believe how fast these squash grew.  Seems like just yesterday they only had two little leaves each and now look at all these flowers!

And the sunflowers, which I planted at the same time, are now a couple of feet high:

I actually ate a squash blossom salad a few days ago because I knew I was going to be getting a lot of blossoms soon and wanted to see if I liked them.  The verdict was that they are delicious but they were also deep fried and stuffed with cheese and isn't anything that's deep fried and stuffed with cheese delicious?  They did have a nice delicate squash taste, but I think I'll leave mine on the plants and wait for the squash.  These are crook-neck yellow summer squash, by the way.

And other exciting things are happening!  Good thing I compulsively take pictures, because now I can show you the progression this past week:




I don't think it's quite ripe enough yet to pick, but I am eagerly awaiting my first taste of homegrown tomato.  And don't for a second think that I'm going to cut it up and put it in a salad or on a sandwich or - heaven forbid - cook it...I'm going to bite into that thing like an apple and let the juice run down my chin just like I did when I was a kid.  Mmm.

Anyway!  There are lots more tomatoes, all green and all different sizes.  Some are getting pretty big and some are still just pea-sized.  Here's a particularly cute pea-sized one:

And a few larger ones:

The same time that I tried squash blossoms I also tried some fried green tomatoes.  I've had fried green tomatoes before and never really liked them, but I would like to like them so I always give them another try.  Now apparently I might not appreciate them since I didn't grow up with them and also I've never had them in the South where they are a true delicacy but seriously they just taste like unripe tomatoes to me.  And I love tomatoes so much I can't fathom why someone would pick them early to get something that tastes worse but, again, I didn't grow up with them.  I should add that these foods were all consumed at Prohibition which has great food and lots of specials for in-season stuff (hence the squash blossom salad and fried green tomatoes.)  I will also add that one of my favorite sandwiches in this city (don't ask me to choose one favorite, there are so many!) is the fried tomato special at Chickie's, which is fried red tomatoes instead of green and infinitely better, in my opinion.

But I digress.  One last thing I wanted to touch on was pest control.  My plants have seemed largely pest-free but I do see holes in the leaves where little bugs have munched.  That's okay!  The main reason I'm doing this whole gardening thing organically is that one of the best things about nature is the balance:  sure, bugs eat plants but bugs also eat other bugs and I'd rather let nature take care of the pests than try to interfere.  I don't know if this is that relevant around here, but growing up our neighbors had a bug zapper (or that's what I always called of those bright lights that attracts bugs to it and then kills them with a satisfying zap.)  Living in the woods there are lots of mosquitoes so in theory a bug zapper makes sense.  Only it doesn't:  turns out mosquitoes usually avoid those lights because the lights are ultraviolet and mosquitoes don't care about that.  They are more attracted to carbon dioxide and human smells.  But slightly bigger bugs - the same ones that live off a steady diet of mosquitoes - are attracted to ultraviolet light and are the main casualty of those lights.  So then you end up with more mosquitoes because their natural predators are reduced!  Here's an article that explains it a little more scientifically and gives some real evidence.  But basically a lot of pest control just ends up disrupting the balance and giving us more pests in the end.  My approach has its drawbacks, though:  a few days ago I found one of my basil leaves half eaten.  I turned over the leaf and there was a caterpillar, munching away.  Look, it got a good two-thirds of the leaf:

before I took it rudely away from its snack and threw it over my fence into the alley.  But not before taking a picture of the little culprit:

Upon closer inspection, that caterpillar looks like the tent caterpillar kind that I found on our tree last year.  Those are no good and kill trees so I probably should have killed it but hopefully it made a nice snack for some bird.  We don't seem to have a ton of birds in our yard, so I don't feel too bad about doing the birds' job and killing things like tent caterpillars and - my nemesis - slugs.  I have kind of a hatred of slugs (they are ugly and huge here and leave gross trails) and I do not want them anywhere near me.  If I were a better person I would probably make myself love them but until that happens I will continue to leave out saucers of beer for them to fall into and drown.  Hey, drowning in beer can't be that bad a death, right?

One last thing:  my parents came down this past weekend and gave me a great present:  water in my garden!

After exploring the dark, scary basement which is accessible by ladder my father found a pipe leading out back with running water!  And because he's good with things like this, he attached a spigot to the water pipe outside (I won't go into details on how suffice it to say it involved a blow torch) and that awesome hose was in the basement.  Success!  Now it is a lot easier to water the plants and I'm sure I'll be spraying myself when it gets really hot out there.  Thanks again!

This was longer than planned (isn't that always the way?) but here's a shot of the garden this morning:

See you next week!

Sarah DeGiorgis has lived in Philly for five years and is finally starting to feel like a true Philadelphian, though she still detests cheesesteaks.  She enjoys reading, watching bad tv, eating and cooking good food and digging in the dirt. Catch up with her continuing efforts to grow food in South Philly by clicking here.