PEACHY!

It’s not the best harvest I’ve ever had. I had to toss a bunch. The ones that made it have spots. But late last night I was reading up (scanning, rather) on the viability of peaches with these dark spots, and learned that the peaches are fine to eat but that the tree itself should be treated to prevent a recurrence next year (and that repeated years of the brown spot blight are bad for the long term viability of the tree). (See below, for more on this). So, having learned in the middle of the night that my peaches were fine to eat, despite their funny look, I was out early this morning, grabbing as many as I could in the bit of time I have before rushing upstairs to log in at work. By this evening, there were only a handful left on the tree. Those will have to wait till the weekend, unless the errant squirrel I saw hovering on the fence near the peach tree has its way. In the meantime, I found a couple good sites with recommendations for preserving peaches, and several on what to do with too many ripe peaches. I’m planning to freeze mine, since I don’t have a dehydrator, and it seems like the easiest option. I will set aside a few to can as well but since I haven’t done it successfully on my own yet (despite a very helpful class from Red Garden Clogs), most of these are freezer bound…

As for the question of the dark spots, a slightly snarky but apparently well-informed poster on GardenWeb forum had the following to say.

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Digdug:I believe your peaches have peach bacterial spot, although if you Google this term and “peach scab”, you will find the two diseases difficult to distinguish. After years of wrestling with this distinction, I more or less concluded that bacterial spots are usually spread farther apart, as yours are, often beginning on the lower part of the peach, and are darker in color. I believe that peach scab usually begins at the top of the peach near the stem, then spreads outward, eventually forming a solid mass.I have had both of these diseases many times, and both are highly damaging to peaches. Yes, you can still eat them, but it’s not much fun to do so, since you cannot even properly peel a peach with either of these diseases, which often affect the flesh to a depth of 1/4 inch or more. Many people peel peaches before eating, and peeling is standard procedure before freezing peaches, which is what happens to most of ours. While it is very important to try to prevent even minor damage to the fruits, in many cases the scab or spot spreads and stops growth of the peaches which of course is even worse.

I wish you would not require us to guess where you live, but from the size of those peaches I have to guess somewhere in the coastal or interior Southeast. The rainy spring weather and early warming of the entire mid-Atlantic favors both of these diseases. Once these diseases are established on peaches, there is nothing to be done, since prevention is the key here, not cure. Application of bleach would be very unwise, and sulfur would not help at this point either. In fact, I believe sulfur to be useless against these diseases at any stage.

Bacterial spot can also infect the leaves of peach trees, causing them to spot, turn yellow, and eventually fall off. The disease is also expressed by lesions on the limbs and twigs that exhibit sap leakage. Three or four years of unchecked bacterial disease can easily kill a peach tree. I have had pretty good luck with control of bacterial disease by applying two dormant sprays of a strong copper product called Kocide. Applications should be made in late fall, and again just before bud break.

The most effective preventative that I have found against peach scab, which you will also no doubt see sooner or later, is a good spray of Daconil fungicide immediately after shuck split, and another around a week later while the peaches are still very small. I have tried other fungicides, including Captan and Topsin, and they do not seem to work for me. No spray will be effective once the peaches begin to size up, because the diseases are already there, though you cannot yet see them.

You don’t mention the variety of peach you have there, but most modern peach varieties are bred to color up red well before they are soft ripe, and can hang on the trees for over two weeks while bright red and still not be soft and sweet enough to pick. Commercial growers have discovered that consumers prefer bright red peaches, but still need a hard peach to ship. Truth be told, many yellow peach varieties taste much better than the highly colored reds. Color is not a good indicator of flavor.

Finally, if keeping the “organic” faith is more important to you than growing good peaches, I doubt that you will ever grow decent peaches. There are some places in the country, mostly those that see warm dry weather during the growing season, that could pull off an organic peach, but not many of them are east of the Mississippi river. And so far we have talked only about diseases, not insects like the plum curculio and oriental fruit moth, which are normally present in the same areas that suffer from disease. Nor have we discussed brown rot, which often strikes later in the season. For the backyard orchardist, growing peaches is quite difficult, requiring all the help available from timely use of fungicides and insecticides.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

My experience is consistent with what this poster has to say. Having a peach tree out back is lovely (and unbeatably beautiful when in bloom), but it does require a lot of care and maintenance, and might not be the best pick for a backyard organic gardener like me. I’ll have to make some decisions about whether to continue to maintain the tree or let it go the way of the mystery dogwood/elderberry bush. I’ve had the tree for a good 7 or so years, and it’s been having solid productions since it was about three years old. The last couple years, though, the harvest has been getting slimmer and slimmer due to attacks by various garden variety pests and disease. I am open to suggestions, here… Go ahead! Gimme the dirt.

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The Perils of Gardening While Anaphylactic

It was curious to me that a creature that previously took little interest in me would suddenly swarm to me like my blood was manna.  I’d suspected, and read, that mosquitoes are partial to particular blood.  And, based on my experience, whatever the magic ingredient, my lifejuice lacked it.  So, it was striking to me that I was attacked the other afternoon by these ankle (and etc.) biters.  So much so that I posted about it to see if others concurred that Culicidae (yes, I looked it up) dinner parties are on the rise in Zone 7b.  Reveler Ralph, a frequent commenter (thank you, btw!) noted that his experience may be skewed from the fact that he gardens primarily on a deck.  He nonetheless offered several helpful pieces of advice, including throwing off mosquitoes’ scent trackers (which is what traditional OTC products are supposed to do) by using chemical-free natural soaps made of lemon or spearmint (or just rub spearmint right on the skin and wear it under your hat — an excellent idea, which puts mint on the list for next year’s garden).  Once bitten, twice iodine, according to our fellow reveler.  (Note to self: pull iodine out of the emergency kit in the basement; the emergency has arrived).  Check out more detailed suggestions in the comments to “The Perils of Gardening.”

As it turns out, however, I am no more attractive to skeetos than I was to various 7th grade crushes when I sported a back brace, glasses and an overbite.  I am fairly certain of this because, after getting all worked up and posting on the bevy of bites across my lower body, I braved the elements again to finish staking the plethora of tomato plants out back (the story of how my garden became a tomato refuge described in “The Perils of Overgardening”).  The next thing I knew, I was feeling the strange itchiness that accompanied the first attack.  (I had chalked this up to the sheer number of bites I had, but apparently it was indicative of something more).  Oddly, this sensation seemed to come from the inside out, like I could feel it traveling just beneath the surface of my skin.  This time, I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, full pants, and rubber gloves to avoid a repeat of the earlier assault.  Suddenly, it struck me.  I ran inside and looked at my face to see the same welts as before.  This time, they were encircled with a ruddy reddish shadiness to the skin around them, and spotted my forehead, chin and neck.  They behaved the same way the earlier “bites” did: very pronounced at first and gradually fading in color and sensation until they were barely noticeable at all.  I had assumed this rapid disappearance was the result of my swift diligence with a plantain leaf.

Checking out my new war wounds in the mirror, I recalled the time I was 9 and we were painting a shed in the woods behind my house.  At some point, my body became fully covered with hives.  A bottle of calamine lotion later, and I was fine.  I do not know why I didn’t recognize that feeling sooner.  It is a distinct feeling, and I was beginning to get it while I was in the garden.  Like there was the presence near of something that doesn’t mesh so well your aura.  Maybe the 20 (or so) year gap in time made me forget what an allergic reaction feels like.  But I was acutely reminded last night.

Now, I suppose I should get to work on figuring out what was the cause of my body’s dramatic response to this presence.  A quick Google search and a scan of the corner of the garden I was working in suggests it may be the milkweed.  It’s always possible, but unlikely, it’s those weedy morning glories I fight back nearly daily.  (Unlikely because we’ve been battling since my occupancy here began).  I have a creeping suspicion it’s a tomato plant, but I dearly sincerely hope not.  Once again, the perils of overgardening are upon us…

The Perils of Gardening

Is it just me or are the mosquitoes particularly rampant this year?  I was outside today, weeding the garden from 4:30 to 5:00, and was well awash in Off, but it was no deterrent to the little demons. I came out of the garden with a bucketful of weeds and half my body covered in bites.  According to my partner, they have “mosquitocation,” and tell each other when and where to find fresh blood. They have also, it seems, drifted down lower on the anatomy. Despite the fact I was leaning down, with my arms well within their reach, I don’t have a spot on my upper body.  Maybe they are getting smarter and sense that arms are attached to hands, which with the power of the third sister Fate can swat the life out of you.

The only thing cut short was my gardening today.  I fled to the front yard to gather up some plantain to treat myself as quick as I could.  As I was plucking the plantain leaves, I saw my next-door neighbor who mentioned his mosquitoes are so bad, he won’t even go out back.  They must be aware of this, for they’ve migrated to my side.

QUESTION: how’s the mosquito population in your ecosystem this year? Have you had any luck with products or approaches to keep them at bay? I’m not crazy about using products that smell like they don’t belong on human skin.  Can anyone recommend some good natural products or, better yet, something that might be already available in the garden?  Also share any effective treatments once you’ve already been affected. I’ve found plantain leaves to work well but if you have a bunch of bites like I do today, it’s hard to get them covered quickly, especially since the treatment is most effective within the first few minutes of getting a bite.  (I typically just crinkle them up, and rub the juice on the bites).

So, any suggestions to combat this year’s most pesky pest? Go ahead, gimme the dirt!

What I wanted to get:

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What I did get:

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Project EATS

I satisfied my herb search today at my local nursery, Shannon Florist, and supported a new-ish and innovative local business, Brooklyn Commune, and a non-profit organization that fosters urban growing, Project EATS at their plant and seedling sale. I came home with basil, a couple heirloom tomato plants (insurance in case my seeds don’t germinate and an opportunity to expand my varieties). I also brought home a couple small cucumber plants because I got wrapped up in a moment of gushing gardeners. The purple kale is because the lady from Project EATS (pictured below) was, wisely, offering sample tastes.  I also compared notes with several other visitors to the stand on what’s the best way to grow beets in Brooklyn (I was relieved to know I’m not the only one who has struggled to get them to grow, container or ground).  A lovely woman who I learned is a neighbor gave me a suggestion for using an empty kitty litter container for cucumbers.  (Ironically, the reason I’m looking to raise them off the ground is that there is a stray cat who prowls the yard so I want to keep them up, up and away but I don’t have much trellis space).  The sale started in the morning.  I got there around noon, and it still had a few hours to go.  I left with hands, but not arms, full. I was proud of myself for the restraint, given that I really wanted to snatch up every single one of those plants and soak in hours of the casual chatter, brimming with advice and anecdotes. But I left with just enough, and no more than I needed.

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I’m Gonna Eat My Houseplants!

Yay!  Happy Friday to me!  I just got the good (Googled) news that Begonias are edible.  This, my revel friends, I did not know.  I got them this summer just because they were pretty, seemed sturdy, and added a pop of color to my garden.  Not gonna tell you what I’m going to do with this exciting news, but it’s gonna be yuuuuuuuummmmmmmmy!  thank you, God (& Shannon’s on Ft. Hamilton Pkwy.), for begonias…

http://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/blflowers.htm

and check out this blog, titled Eat the Weeds and other things too…I like!

http://www.eattheweeds.com/begonia-bonanza/

And you, now that we’re getting close to being home-bound, and you find yourself inspecting house plants and other items, are you encountering any surprise edibility?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt (just don’t make me eat it, I think)….

AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!

The salsa is good but the peppers are HOT HOT HOT!!!! The capsaicin (sp?) is stuck in my fingerprints and burning the hell outta them.  I can hardly type.  I looked up solutions online, found this: http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/pepper/msg081330274973.html but so far (tried regular handwashing, dishsoap, lemon juice), no luck.  Any suggestions?  HELP!!!!!

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

I have mixed feelings on the rose bush in a container on the top of my stairs on my front porch, the plant that is closest to my front door.  The concern may be that I am so concerned about it.  I have tended, preened and pruned to plants that I am working to produce something to put on my kitchen table.  I have never, however, been one for fussing over a flower.  Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate them as much as the day is long.  I think they are one of God’s most intense, delicate and magnificent creations [I think most folks would agree, having the freedom to enter their higher power of choice, of course].  But I’m not sure how I feel fussing over them.  But fuss I do, and probably not as much as I should.  I really am very proud when I see a bright pink rose bud burst into full bloom right there in front of my doorstep, as if to shout a message like one of those you might see on a 1970s tee – Someone in Cheyenne loves me.  “A green thumb in Brooklyn loves me!”  Maybe it trips me up a bit because I am reminded of the Type A rosebush fusser in that really cool movie with Kevin Spacey where he lusts after his kid’s friend and she’s got the rose petals falling up all around her nakedish body.  What a crude juxtaposition…wifey with the rosebud clippers snipping manically away while he makes his life liveable being creepy.  Ah, I may not be remembering it perfectly well but there may be some association (think rosebush competitions) between rose growers and gardeners who get their rocks off manipulating God’s (or Whoever’s) roses into humble submission.  It doesn’t stop me from being duly impressed by one who lords him or herself over the seemingly untameable force that is the Rosacae, clippers held high victoriously high above the lowly but wild and free Eudicot (yes, I wiki’ed that one).  But now, muah ha ha, eep!  I’m one of them.  Maybe not, though.  I can’t say I’m successful enough to count myself in the class of clipper wielding rose obsessed gardeners.  But I’m getting there.

That said, the QUESTION that came to me today is how to use coffee grounds in your roses, or if it’s better to put the grounds in the compost.  ANSWER to follow…