Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lettuce Worth Saving

Living in a southern climate means an uncertain winter. Sometimes the winter is very cool while other times we experience 80-90 degree Fahrenheit days for a week or two at a time. Often, when there is a warm period during the winter the lettuce goes bitter. Even some more bitter-resistant kinds of lettuce that I have grown have gone bitter – until this year.

My Jerico Lettuce sprouted up quickly (Source: SESE)

Though Jerico Lettuce is not the most beautiful romaine lettuce it is the most bitter-free variety I have ever experienced. While some lettuce will go bitter in the middle of the winter, Jerico continued to produce healthy slightly-sweet leaves until they finally bolted in May.

Some uniformly green leaves of Jerico Lettuce

Saving lettuce is a pretty simple task. All a gardener needs to do is leave the lettuce alone and let the pollinators do their job. I chose to select my seed by saving only the largest lettuce heads that bolted last. Late bolting is essential to growing in a warm climate and if the early-bolting plants are not culled then the gardener will not improve the variety.

Lettuce beginning to bolt

Lettuce Flowers are so pretty

I am always experimenting with new techniques in harvesting and saving seed. This year I tried both cutting individual lettuce heads by hand (a very laborious process) as well as experimented with waiting until the majority of the seed had dried before cutting off each stalk. Cutting off individual heads by hand is probably only worthwhile if you have strong winds or the seed heads are going to be disturbed by something going through the garden. Otherwise it is much easier to wait until the majority of the seeds heads have started producing seeds and lop the whole stalk off at one time.

One method of harvesting lettuce is to harvest one head at a time.

Lettuce Heads beginning to dry.

I also harvest lettuce by cutting each stalk when most have gone to seed.

The rest dry out and go to seed shortly thereafter

Once I have gathered the seed heads and let them dry I rub them with my fingers to separate the individual seeds from the seed heads and white fuzz. Then I winnow them using either the wind (if there is a consistent wind outside) or a fan (if the wind is unpredictable that day).

Lettuce heads after drying and being rubbed to separate the seeds from the heads.

Winnowing the lettuce seed

That is about all that is required to save lettuce seed. I would highly recommend Jerico lettuce to anyone who wants to extend their lettuce crop beyond the usual season. It is not a beautiful variety, by any means, but it produces a reliable harvest long after other lettuce varieties have turned bitter.

Lettuce seed is easy and fun to harvest. (=

Thursday, May 22, 2014

2014 Carosello Bianco Leccese

As part of my little cucumber business I make sure to test seed germination (to make sure it is above 80%) before selling any seed. Instead of composting this pre-sprouted seed out, I planted the Carosello Bianco Leccese or Light Leccese in some pots and let them grow some fruit.

Some Carosello Leccese Light next to a home-grown tomato

One characteristic of the Carosello I have been working to identify is how long down the vine each variety tends to set fruit. The Carosello Bianco Leccese sets fruit very close to the center of the fruit, making it a very early producing Carosello variety.
A Compact growth habit makes this one of the earlier and faster-growing Carosello.

Carosello Leccese Bianco female Flower

Carosello Leccese Bianco - The female flower is setting fruit.

The fruit grows,

and grows,

and grows until the Carosello Leccese Bianco is ready to be consumed. (=

 A few years ago, one of my children tested positive for an allergy to cucumbers. He was very sad about this, as he loves cucumbers and pickles. Fortunately, he tested negative for an allergy to melons, which means he can eat any of my Carosello, Armenian or other cucumber-melons. When my garden produces some Carosello for him to eat, our whole family enjoys eating cucumbers together.

Slices of Carosello Bianco Leccese

Carosello and other cucumber-melons can be consumed by those who are
allergic to cucumbers - as long as they are not allergic to melons! (=

No cucumbers for this caterpillar - this bug will soon meet my bearded dragon!
Growing cucumbers next to the ground results in variable shapes

Is this the Carosello Bianco Leccese - or a pear?

In the Southwest, Carosello can be planting well into the fall. I will most likely be planting new varieties into July and September.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Missing the Rain!

With the dearth of rainfall that we have received this last year has come an increase in poor air quality.

Rincon Mountains on May 16th (These mountains are close to my home)
Without moisture in the soil, the recent windy days have literally “picked up” the dirt from the ground and made it part of the air we breathe. Many people that I know in Tucson are having breathing problems because of the poor air quality (including yours truly).

A veiw of the Tucson Mountains on a air quality advisory day.

The Pima County has issued numerous air quality advisories recently. This lack of water has also affected the local insect population. I have seen very few pollinators when compared to this time last year. Additionally, a lack of rainfall means that the only source of water my plants recieve is city water. Whether a person is a gardener, farmer, or just wanting a drink of water - I hope this drought will remind each of us to pray for rain.

The Catalina Mountains and Mt. Lemmon in the distance on a air quality advisory day

Friday, May 16, 2014

Unintentional Walking Onions

So my TOG gardening friend Flo, who is known for her onion sets that she orders each fall, came by my house one time and gave me some “Texas Bunching Onions”. For the last 2 months I have decreased the water these onions receive and I thought that, along with the hot temperatures the onions would quickly dry out. No luck yet. These are some pretty tough onions.

After dead-heading all of the onion tops.

Hoping for some larger bulbs this year.

In the hopes to save seed from our onions last year, both Flo and I simultaneously discovered that these onions do not set seed when they flower. Having uncovered this fact, I decided that this year I would remove any flower heads I found growing on my onion plants. All went according to plan until recently, some of the more determined onions decided to produce little bulblets. Perhaps this is a way for gardeners to save the traits of a great hybrid variety - by forcing the onions to make bulblets by deadheading all but a few of the flowers.

The onions continue to thrive without a steady water source.

An onion with claws?! This plant has the will to live as it produces small bulblets.

The Onion Bulblets are growing!

Alas – the onions that refuse to die. Perhaps if these bulblets grow large enough to sustain themselves then I can plant them out in my summer garden to see what they become. At the same time I am trying to select this variety for a larger lower bulb. I hope a large bulb is a trait I can select for as I divide the onions this next fall. Wish me luck.

A strange-looking bulblet forms on the onion stem.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Out with the old and in with the new – Tomatoes!

Last fall I wanted to extend my tomato season by buying some more Celebrity tomato plants. Unfortunately the plants that I found at my favorite nursery were thin and weak – but I bought them anyway. One of them made it through the winter – really close to the wall in the kids’ garden. Over the last few weeks we have been really enjoying the 2-3 tomatoes this plant produced each week.

A few of the last tomatoes from the winter Celebrity Tomato Plant

As birds will even try to eat green tomatoes, I decided to put the netting up early. Birds have a knack for getting around barriers to get to food and I have had several casualties recently. The holes in the tomatoes along with a wave of spider mites making their home on the old plant indicates to me that it is time to say goodbye to this little plant.

Any tomato that is not covered with netting is bird food.

A very small opening in the netting allows a bird to munch my tomato.

A closeup of my winter Tomato plant in April

Only good hygiene and distance postpones spider mites from infesting new plants.

On the other end of the spectrum, my new Celebrity and Legend plants are doing fantastic. Even the F2 hybrid plants I have are doing well – except that some are not fruiting as quickly as I thought and I had to cull one for growing too big. One unfortunate part about gardening is that the gardener gets to administer death to some plants just as much as he administers life to others.

Culling the beautiful F2 because of its sprawling habit.

The more compact F2 tomato plants get to stay

A few of my Legend Tomatoes

Some more Legend Tomatoes

Scars on premature Celebrity tomatoes from attacks by a small delicate insect.

To conclude, it has been really nice to pick my first red tomato from my new Celebrity plants on the same day that I am still picking tomatoes off my old plant.

Wait - what's that red thing back there?

It's my first summer Tomato!