Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Busy Time of Year

If you're not busy this week, you're not gardening! I've been working around the rain showers all week. We transplanted tomato and parsley plants, and planted cucumbers, corn and beans. We have a second round of tomatoes and our pepper crop to pot up to four inch pots from the cell trays in which they germinated about three weeks ago. And it is time to start more basil and parsley seeds for transplanting in late June or early July.

I find it is hard to have too much of either parsley or basil during the summer months. For one thing, both go great with tomatoes and cucumbers, the king and queen of the summer veggie garden. Parsley is also a preferred host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly. Hardly had I put my four new plants into the garden when they were visited by a female black swallowtail, deftly placing individual eggs here and there on my plants. I don't mind, as the colorful green, yellow and black striped caterpillars don't usually kill the plants. After the caterpillars are done, the parsley usually bounces back and provides plenty of leaves for the table. I do try to give them a little cottonseed meal or other nitrogen source, to help things along.

The relationship of parsley and parsley worm involves more than eating and being eaten. The chemicals that give parsley (and other members of the celery family) its distinctive flavor provide the caterpillar with raw materials for an interesting defense against its predators. When disturbed, the caterpillar rears up and exposes a specialized scent gland, the osmetarium, releasing an unusual odor, faintly reminiscent of...parsley. The osmetarium looks like a pair of antlers, yellow orange in color. Besides parsley, the caterpillar feeds on carrots, dill, celery and golden alexanders. You may see the caterpillar on Queen Anne's lace, which is a feral carrot.

The corn variety we selected this year is Ambrosia. It is a bi-color, sugar enhanced hybrid cord that bears early. In other words, purely the creation of plant breeders. Modern hybrid sweet corn, however, is not only easier to grow than older types, it is much more forgiving to the novice gardener who may not be sure when to pick. With, for example, Silver Queen, the window of perfection may only be a couple of days. With Ambrosia, you can be off by a week and still have an acceptable quality ear. Corn takes a lot of room and a lot of nitrogen, and you can buy it for $5 a dozen at the farmer's market. But there is nothing like truly fresh sweet corn for summer flavor.

We are growing an old standard cucumber, Boston Pickling. I intend to convert at least six pounds of our crop into a batch of my grandmother's sweet pickles. Last year was a lousy season for cucumbers. We are hoping for better results this year.

We planted Bush Romano and Goldrush beans. The former are long, flat Italian-type beans that are loaded with flavor and can stand up to long cooking. The latter are yellow wax beans that are perfect for summer salads after a brief blanching. Beans can be planted every two weeks from now until the middle of July, for a continuous harvest. Later plantings are more subject to bean beetles than are earlier ones.

UT Gardens Farmer's Market Now Open
Last Wednesday, May 15, I had the pleasure of staffing a question-and-answer table at the UT Gardens Farmer's Market. Thanks to the efforts of market director Becca Mattingly and a great group of local farmers and craftspeople, the kickoff was a huge success. The market is open every Wednesday from 4:00-7:00 PM at UT Gardens off Neyland Drive. Parking is free, there is music and food, a tent-full of activities for the kids, and the area is pet friendly. You can tour the gardens, grab a Vietnamese spring roll or a Tennessee fried pie and shop for dinner all in one place. I tried the Thai-style iced tea and loved it. Wildflower honey and organic beauty aids all await your perusal from Honey Dew Naturals of Strawberry Plains. Baked goods from great local vendors like Hillside Bakery and VJ's complement all the fresh produce and cut flowers on display by multiple growers. I or another person will be there to answer your gardening questions every week, so please drop by and say hello.

1 comment:

Amanda Plante said...

Interesting info -- especially about the swallowtails. We've had some females fluttering around our parsley and fennel last week too. It's an exciting thing to see you vegetable garden connected to the ecosystem. Thanks for the info!