More Okra stuff

In the previous post I mentioned that I was growing two varieties of Okra. When I picked the Start of David I must have missed the Annie Oakley or it grew overnight. In either case, this picture shows the difference between the two varieties. I’m making a side dish tonight that will combine these with other garden goodies – specifically Louisiana Long eggplant, Marconi grilling peppers and White Wing onions. I saute these in a little olive oil, pour in some tomato sauce and season with fresh oregano and basel. Oila! I’ve made this dish a few times sans okra but can’t see any reason why that won’t just add a little something to the mix.
People visiting the garden these days are blown away and several of these visitors are people who know something about gardening. I knew it was much nicer than in the past but apparently it’s now unbelievable. An August garden in Florida is a burned out wasteland waiting a month or two for replant. Mine is full, green and putting out plenty of veggies. The first thing people say is “you must just be pouring water on it all the time”. Nope, mostly natural rain watering or via a 15 minute spot watering about 6PM. I know what the difference is but it’s even surprising me. Florida soil is almost completely sand so water runs right through it, no retention at all. My soil is now almost completely organic material from the surface to nominally 18” deep. If you dig down a foot or so, it’s moist. Although I don’t have any measurements, I suspect my soil is also cooler and that too may be part of the success. I don’t think it’s the nutrients because most Florida gardeners pour fertilizer in prodigious quantities so if it was just nutrients, they’d have great gardens. They also comment that I must spend hours weeding because there are virtually no weeds. One thing that does grow here in summer gardens are the weeds and is the thing that drives most gardeners back in the house. For me, basically no weeds. I think the answer must again be organic soil and the fact that I am not pounding it with water hours a day. I try to keep a leaf layer on the surface which fairly well keeps any growing media from the surface so my theory is that the wind carried weed seeds have nothing to root into. I think in the end, they simply don’t believe me and assume I’m out there 24/7 watering and weeding. I’m ok with that.

It’s also interesting that I’m having no bug problems. Usually by May I’m spraying whatever it is I can find that has a skull and crossbones to kill off the evil borers, leaf eaters, or whatever manner of attack bugdom throws at us. And normally my chemical defense or offense is totally useless and I end up splitting the crop about 50/50 with the creepy crawlers. No problems at all this year. I guess it’s possible that the plants are so healthy they have natural anti bug mechanisms at work. Maybe healthy leaves are too tough or taste bad. What I think more likely, the dry summer we’ve had is not conducive to insect life. We basically did not have a yellow fly season or a love bug season this year (so far). Works for me.


I luckily escaped a disaster this morning. I mentioned a while back that a wasp had nailed me when I was retrieving the daily newspaper so I’ve been careful to look inside the box before sticking my hand in ever since. I did the same this morning but unbeknownst to me, a covey/herd/gaggle/flock/swarm of wasps had started working on a nest, in earnest, after I got the paper yesterday. As I started withdrawing the paper I heard the unmistakeable buzz and did a high speed yank out and backing up move. A few came out but I was far enough away to avoid their vengeance. I came up to the house, got a can of wasp spray, and blasted the nest. There had to be at least a dozen working the nest so it was a clean wipeout. Unlike bears, I don’t think wasps are a protected species but I still won’t call the wildlife folks to report the encounter.

Starting to spot small okra pods forming. Most people haven’t seen okra growing so I’ve added the pic’s. The blossoms are particularly pretty and dress up the garden nicely. They look a bit like hibiscus blossoms. I’m not sure how tall these plants will grow but right now they’re 3′ with no sign they’ve peaked out. I’m going to keep a very close eye on them and be sure to pick the pods earlier than I have in the past. The particular varieties I’ve chosen this year are totally different than I’ve grown in the past so maybe they won’t get woody as quickly but I’m not going to let them get away from us this year. One variety is called Star of David so maybe this is a Kosher crop. The picture doesn’t show it too well but it’s more deeply furrowed and more plump than the Clemson Spineless most people grow. I’m going to put this guy on the grill and see how well it performs in that venue. The other variety is called Annie Oakley so I don’t have a clue what to expect that is reminiscent of a female sharp shooter.

So far, so good on the mid summer cucumbers. Cucumbers are right up there with tomatoes in terms of what people want. The plants are looking beautiful and loaded with small cucumbers and blossoms. My calculation says we’ll be picking 8/24 but they look a bit ahead of schedule to me. Deep down inside I really expected that the high heat and humidity would be too much and that still may be the case but I’m really encouraged at this point. I have two varieties going, time and location spaced, so the youngest plants have not yet developed any fruit but have great looking foliage. I’m going to start a couple more in a few weeks and see if we can keep cucumbers on the table through November. That will be a big change from the past.

Worse than Carter

The bear guy came by and talked to all the folks in the neighborhood individually. First point he made emphatically was that they were not going to relocate the bear. We live in bear country so just get over it. Having said that he did offer some possible aids. They have several motion detecting solutions – one blows a siren, another turns on a sprinkler – and an electric fence that shocks but doesn’t kill. They’ll loan you any of these for 60 days at which time you can either give them back or buy them. The electric fence for the trash can is the most expensive at $100 installed. The hook is that everyone in the neighborhood has to agree to do something so that the bear will simply route totally around this area. I can tell you, that ain’t going to happen! He also said the bear was quite capable of tearing down the shed where I currently hide the can. We have very minimal foodstuff that goes into the trash so I think what we’ll do for a while is just put what few items we have – mostly bones – in a zip bag in the freezer and then just transfer the bag to the trash can on trash pickup day. The burn barrel is also a viable alternative for trash. My big concern is that the grill is inside the screen porch and that must give off meaty odors, wouldn’t you think? I really don’t want him/her crashing through the screen to lick the grate.

The last paint job came out so well, I decided to do another wall. Talk about luck (or planning), I ended up with about 20′ out of 100 yds of the blue tape left over and maybe a cup of paint out of a gallon. Just enough to put in a jar for future touch up. I have to admit I was getting a little nervous and jerky as I was coming close to finishing the paint and still seeing some blank wall in front of me. The minimum amount of this particular paint you can buy is a full gallon. I was thinking I could hang a picture over the unfinished section if I had run out prematurely. Luckily Nancy was at her quilt club so that discussion never happened. In the end, this new wall really turned out well so I’m done painting for a couple of years at least. Without a doubt, this new blue masking tape is the greatest boon to home painting to come along in a while. The taping itself is easier and removal is flawless. I am basically a sloppy painter but you would think Picasso did these walls.

Politics – In the past whenever someone asked me which Administration I thought was the worst ever, with no hesitation I pointed to the Carter administration. About two years ago I opined that the Obama administration was starting to smell like the Carter Administration. Now I think Obama is making Carter look pretty good. I don’t believe there is one economic indicator which is not worse today than it was when Obama took office, not one. Clearly this administration does not have a clue how to turn the economy – not a clue and at this point I’m just wondering how bad it’s going to get and if 2012 will ever get here. Why is business shut down? Simple. People remember the Carter administration and have decided to wait it out. Maybe we’ll get a president with some private sector experience; someone who’s had to meet a payroll; someone who at least has held a private sector job; or maybe some executive experience, even if it’s in the public sector. This is turning out to be the most anti – business, pro gov’t crowd in my memory. Watching all this unfold is making me ill.

Sweet Potato results are in

Sweet potato vines are really tough. They were taking over one section of the garden so I cut them way back and threw the vines into a wheelbarrow rather than into the compost pile. I saw how easily they root and didn’t want to take a chance they’d start rooting in the compost. One week later, the cuttings look as fresh as they did when I cut them. Nothing survives in the heat and direct sun for more than a day here – that is except sweet potatoes.

The rest of the sweet potato news is not so good. I dug them up after 100 days and found zip, nada, none. There were some wide, reddish spots in the roots that you could tell should have developed into tubers but just didn’t get the job done. The only thing I can figure is that the soil must be missing something necessary for tuber development. I’m going to do some research and see if I can learn something finite to do with the new starts I put in last month. They look great but obviously that’s no indication of what’s happening underground and there’s no sense letting them just take up space if they’re not going to earn their keep. There was one bit of good news – when I pulled out the roots there was a decent population of earthworms living there. That’s indicative of healthy soil and something that’s been missing from the garden since the get go. I had a compost pile ready to go and laid down about 4” of this black gold on the row and will plant green beans there later this week.

Follow-up – So I called the State Ag center to talk to a sweet potato expert and also read a few articles. The consensus is that my soil is phosphorus deficient. It turns out that root crops need soil richer in phosphorus and potassium and I guess my soil is just that. I’ve consistently had trouble growing decent carrots and beets but I attributed that to the general condition of the soil and assumed that once I got the organic material levels up to snuff, all other problems would disappear. The Ag guy even suggested that soil could be too “organic”, meaning not enough native soil. My objective has been to totally eliminate the native soil which was infested with nematodes so perhaps I’ve reached a saturation point. I do know that in most places, the pure native soil – aka sand- is down about 18” at this point so maybe I need to be adding more soil to the compost mix.

Flame thrower

For me, the paint job came out just great. A very close scrutiny might show up some flaws but to my integrating eyes, perfection. I also came up with something for the bear. I removed the blue masking tape, probably 200′ worth, and wadded it into a couple large, sticky balls. I’m going to put them in the trash can and let nature takes it’s course.

Not all the wild life is threatening. For whatever reason, I’ve never seen as many hummingbirds as we have this year. We don’t have any feeders but there are enough flowering plants around to attract them. Still, I think we need to get a couple feeders up and going to lure them closer to the house. My neighbor has four or five around his house and they are really swarming up there.

The corn seed I planted germinated in 3 days! Too soon to say how much of it germinated but a few have already popped out, two to three days before I expected. So did the acorn squash. I guess the higher temperatures and the recent rains have made things happen much faster than I’m used to. It’ll become obvious quickly how these new seedlings will deal with the mid summer heat. I think the corn will do ok for the first couple of weeks since I planted it amongst the butternut squash which should provide plenty of shade for the seedlings and maybe keep the soil just a tad cooler.

My neighbor, George, has a new toy. He picked up an attachment to a propane tank that creates a flame thrower. It has a turbo mode that shoots the colorless flame tongue about 15′. So he can load the propane tank onto the golf cart and ride along slowly torching the weeds along the driveway. It sounds exactly like a hot air balloon taking off so I can hear him coming. He also got a new computer. Guess which of the toys is the most fun to play with. If he has a much trouble with this new computer as with the old, I’m seeing a flame thrower attack on it in the near future. A bear burner?