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Sunday, September 18, 2016

A tale of three crops - Tomatoes, Eggplants and Okra

Warm days, cool nights
Changing color of leaves all bright
Garden invites to sow more seeds
Come oh girl, I am still awake
Sow something which you can reap

Fall is a beautiful time to spend in garden. With cool mornings, I am able to spend more time in the garden. The sun doesn't hurt as much as it used to in summer. I am still merrily harvesting summer crops. Okra, eggplants, tomatoes. I want to talk about what it took to grew these three summer crops this year.

German Red Beefsteak tomatoes
The story of tomatoes
This year I grew two heirloom varieties of tomatoes. The name of the varieties being Hungarian Heart and German Red Beefsteak. Heirloom variety tomatoes are absolutely delicious, colorful and huge in comparison to hybrid varieties. The fact that heirloom varieties are from non-GMO seeds makes them extra special. The downside is they require more care and maintenance, are more susceptible to diseases and their skin cracks when they grow in size.

These tomatoes were juicy and delicious. I used these tomatoes in curries and soup. Still thinking more ideas to use them.

Tomatoes are susceptible to attack from tomato hornworm and/or cutworms. These pests take a bite out of your tomato and can make them look unpleasant (and unmarketable). Occasionally, these pests can also get inside the ripe tomatoes. Due of sudden fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, for heirloom variety tomatoes planted in the garden, cracks can develop early on during their growth. Calcium deficiency can also take a toll on tomatoes and cause end rot. Fungal diseases like blight are another threat to these fruiting plants. Early blight is causing some yellowing of leaves of my plants at this time. The growth of the plant doesn't stop but I noticed early or late blight spreads fast. 
Another issue that I faced with heirloom tomatoes was ripening. It's September but not all of the hanging tomato fruits have ripened. It's like they are hibernating. I went to one of my tomato plants one evening and whispered to it "Buddy, hurry up !". Temperature fluctuations and uneven water levels are a major cause of tomatoes not ripening with time. In the last few weeks, the temperature fluctuated from 89 degrees during daytime to 50 degrees at night. There is a black plastic mulch surrounding the tomato plants in the garden. The mulch helps retain moisture levels. I used this black plastic mulch along with these garden staples. In a garden, such a mulch is very helpful. It is easy to install and remove by hand and curbs weeds.

The tale of Okra
Besides the fact that I love cooking okra from time to time, okra is easy to grow in a garden. It doesn't require stakes to support (unlike tomatoes) and doesn't take a lot of space to grow. Despite most of my okra plants already devoured by rabbits, the three surviving plants are still giving me excellent quality okra. Okra has a unique taste from other vegetables. Cook it with dry spices on slow flame to best enjoy it's flavor. Okra can also be stuffed with herbs and spices and roasted on slow flame for a savory dish. Cook it uncovered and it won't become slimy.

Since my okra and tomatoes were frequently eaten by critters the entire summer, a few weeks earlier I order this cage trap to catch some of the nasty critters. I should have ordered something to catch the critters or keep them at bay. I thought the fencing was enough. It wasn't.

I would have loved a bountiful harvest of okra. Lesson learnt: Loose fencing or netting cannot prevent rabbit, squirrels and groundhog from have breakfast in your garden. The critters can crawl from underneath a net at any time.  If you have a garden in an area frequented by small animals, I highly suggest to use a cage trap to catch these animals and release them at a safer place away from your garden. This is a more humane way of getting rid of critters.

Eggplants Speak

If you ever want to test your patience growing summer annual crops, put a few seeds of eggplant in your garden. These purple beauty could take forever to produce fruits. Summer had been fairly hot in New Jersey. After transplanting 22 seedlings of Tadifi eggplants purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom seed company, I waited and waited. The plant, in it's initial stages of growing, was attacked by beetles (Potato beetles or Japanese beetles, whatever were they). The plant wasn't entirely eaten by pests but there was significant leaf damage at one time. Note that it did not stop the growth of the plant. I reluctantly applied Sevin once on the leaves to kill the nasty pests. I almost thought the plant has died but thought of taking it out from garden. As a gardener practicing organic methods, I wouldn't have applied Sevin dust on my eggplants had I known a more immediate way to control the beetles that were chewing the leaves of eggplant. I sprayed Neem oil on the leaves and another home-made insecticidal soap to get rid of the leaf eating pests. Both weren't very effective to deter pests though they did provide temporary relief.  I couldn't cover the eggplants with a row cover since the hoops that I had were not of sufficient height. Plus without drip irrigation in place, removing the row cover every now and then to water the plants was a bit troublesome.
After two long months, my eggplants produced flowers and two weeks later, fruit. I couldn't have been happier. I am glad I didn't uprooted the eggplants when I was unhappy with their slow growth. Lesson learnt: keep emotions in check :)
I gave two applications of leaf compost to my eggplants during the months they were in garden. I thought it was useless but I was wrong. Composting helps. The plants remains healthy, get their nutrition and are better able to survive pests.

These three were a bulk of summer crops that I grew in my garden (besides zucchini). I gave my best shot at these plants. The hot and humid days of summer at times prevented me from removing the weeds around plants in an effective way. In a garden, there is always more to do and more to learn.

I am taking it a little slow in fall. But the garden doors aren't yet closed. How did my garden change since the end of summer and what's next for fall...more to come in next post.

Share your pics of garden. I would love to hear what your home garden speaks and how you care for your plants.