Thursday, August 30, 2012

Garden Maintenance and Carosello Thoughts

When I began vegetable gardening in Tucson I quickly discovered that I was investing way too much time for what little produce my garden produced. Sure – Brussel Sprouts and Broccoli are nice vegetables, but the amount of maintenance required for the meager reward was not worth the effort. With time and experience I learned which plants required a high amount of maintenance and which plants required very little maintenance. I decided that I would have a mixture of crops that required both large and small demands on my time.

Carosello Pollisello Cucumber-Melon Blossom
I wonder why this flower has not been pollinated yet?

With this maintenance scheme in mind I have recently decided that my favorite kind of vegetable is the kind that has a lower maintenance in some areas and higher maintenance in other areas. I strive to grow vegetables that require lower maintenance and greater disease resistance and tolerance to environmental conditions while requiring higher maintenance in relation to needing to be harvested. That is really what has drawn me towards the cucumber-melons. For the hot southern states where heat and disease is a real problem, cucumber-melons (including the Carosello) are great.

A flower is becoming a cucumber! (=

Some dark Carosello Polisello Growing

A tasty dark Carosello Polisello

Some kind of Mandurian Round carosello I grew this summer

My experience with the Carosello cucumber-melons has been wonderful so far. They are vigorous, heat-loving plants that demand fertile soil. The more fertile and composted the soil, the better the plants grow. Their growth pattern is very predictable, and it is always fun to watch the fruit grow. The amount of fruit they produce is relatively high and the colors and patterns the fruit can be bred to produce make the cucumber a beautiful treat.

Some of the Carosello Fruit I harvested this summer

Carosello Polisello harvested for seed
Inside of Carosello Fruit
Carosello Seed and Pulp
Cleaning Seed from Pulp
Cleaned Carosello Seed
Though harvesting seed from the fruit is relatively easy, figuring out how long to wait until picking the fruit and determining how long to leave the fruit in storage before harvesting the seed are still aspects of the growing process I have not yet learned.. Mature carosello fruit do have a slight swetness immediately after the fruit is cut open though the fruit quickly loses its sweetness thereafter. Though the flesh of the mature fruit does have the texture and appearance of sweeter melons the taste can be described as bland at best.

Light colored Carosello

The flesh of this Carosello is very similar to honeydew

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Negected Garden

Due to recent events beyond my control I have been having a difficult time caring for my garden. It seems to have done alright without me despite how much I miss working in it.

My neglected Monsoon Garden

A few of the things that have kept me away from my garden which include a neighbor on drugs smashing up my car, dealing with insurance – which paid me much less than the car was worth, finding a car, buying a car, having to return the car, buying another car, doing emissions and registration, doing some repairs on that car, accidently locking myself out of that car, going to the Toyota dealership for new keys, having to appear in court multiple times for the neighbor incident, having to deal with a prosecutor, breaking my big toe while exercising, going to the hospital because the pain would not decrease, organizing a church activity, taking care of children with pink eye and strep throat, disinfecting our house and having to go to the doctor for a rapid strep throat test and an antibiotic eye drop prescription. All of this happened while starting off a new school year for my children and for myself as a teacher.

Alas - the weeds outside my garden (in the foreground) are growing!

 I love to garden and I love to share my garden with others, though you will have to forgive me for my infrequent posts while I recuperate from the last month of my life.

Despite neglect, my garden is growing - howbeit a bit unruly

Friday, August 10, 2012

Purple Hyacinth Bean

My initial encounter with the Purple Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpureus) came while doing some research into heat tolerant beans online. Supposedly, Thomas Jefferson happened to have this plant as a flower within his garden. I later read more about this bean variety in the  book Perennial Vegetables and decided it was worth a try.

One of my Purple Hyacinth Bean plants after about 3-4 weeks

My experience with growing the Purple Hyacinth Bean is that it can be a little difficult to start. Going through the effort of chitting the seed (pre-sprouting it before planting it in the soil) is well worth the effort and results in an improved plant emergence rate than putting dry seeds in the soil. When planted in the spring (highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s) the plant grows slowly.

The Purple Hyacinth Bean Blossom is pink or purple

Another thing I have noticed about these beans is that they are extremely heat resistant (with local temperatures exceeding 107 degrees Fahrenheit). The Hyacinth Bean requires an average amount of water and doesn’t experience much pest problem though insects will occasionally chew a little on the leaves. I have my beans trellised over a metal shed – something I would never do with cucumbers or Chinese long beans. This occasionally causes the plant to get a little burnt but generally the plant just keeps growing. I did experience a little bit of bean mosaic earlier in the season but that quickly disappeared after I removed the infected leaves and pulled out my Tepary Beans.

From the top of my metal shed temperatures exceed 107 F

The pink flowers of the Purple Hyacinth Bean have not attracted near as many insects as I initially thought they would, though bees and butterflies occasionally visit.

Purple Hyacinth Bean Pods developing on the vine

The Purple Hyacinth Bean plant can produce quite a lot of beans

One of the reasons why I enjoy growing these beans is because of the color. The beans beautifully contrast the leaves of the plant, as well as the rest of the garden.

A week's worth of hyacinth beans

Purple Hyacinth Bean Pods are almost ready to cook.
How a vegetable tastes is one very important question that many books and websites often leave unanswered. Some, including my family members, who are used to the taste of English-type blue lake bush beans would probably not go for Chinese long beans unless cooked a specific way. So, how do Purple Hyacinth Beans taste? I tried them both raw and cooked to find out. I have read in multiple places that the skins of the mature seeds are poisonous so I decided not to even try cooking them. Eaten raw, the young beans are okay. They taste a little like eating some kind of thick leaf. Although the pods unfortunately lose their purple color when they are stir fried the change of color is more than compensated by a dramatic improvement in taste. The closest thing I could relate the taste of the cooked bean pods is to edamame or soybean pods. My children do not hesitate to tell me if they don’t like the taste of our home-grown produce and they asked for seconds of these beans.

Although the beans change color they taste really good!

In summary, other than the dry seeds being poisonous, I would highly recommend Purple Hyacinth Beans to anyone with room to trellis a vine with beautiful flowers and pods. The vine is low–maintenance, takes the heat well and the bean pods taste great when cooked. There are apparently many other hyacinth bean cultivars that I hope to be able to grow in the future.
A few seeds ready to plant straight from a dried pod.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Here Come the Bugs!

With the monsoon storm patterns that come into Arizona come the bugs from Mexico and the surrounding area. Some of them are common while others are not so common.

For the introduction, the Iris oratoria mantis

A Click beetle mimicing a bee

A small tortise shell beetle

An "Ankle-biter" mosquito - these are small yet really fast!

Assassin bug nymph looking for bugs to eat

Assassin bug adult awaiting some fast food

I found this Mexican Bean Beetle just recently - I've never seen these before.

A Mexican Bean Beetle found living in Tucson, Arizona

Each insect that comes into my garden is interesting to me, and more so to my kids. When I was a child I love playing with bugs every opportunity that I got.

Wild Bee on my Mexican Sunflower

A Camouflaged Grasshopper on the dirt and rocks 

I work hard to persuade my kids not to bother any beneficial insect but I am willing to let my children play with bugs that would prefer to chew up my little plants.

A Japanese Fruit or June beetle grub from my garden soil
A Japanese Fruit or June Beetle
A Rhinoceros Beetle
A Yellow Crab Spider awaiting another bite to eat

A female Iris oratoria nymph. Mantises prefer to hang around my flowers