Thursday, September 01, 2011

September in the Garden

September is a busy time for gardeners. Squash and tomatoes are giving us their all, fall fruit is beginning to ripen, and the last of the berries and peaches beguile us with their transitory but intoxicating flavors. While we are busy cooking and preserving all the bounty, it is also time to plant fall and winter vegetables and plan for the holiday season. Just in the nick of time, here are some tips to help keep it all going smoothly.

First we have a recipe source for late summer’s bounty. Then we will take a look at planting heirloom potatoes for holiday dinners and fall flower bulbs to brighten up late winter and early spring. While we think ahead to the holiday season, we might want to think about the creatures that share our world. The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide is reviewed below. It would make a great gift for anyone who enjoys gardening and wildlife. You can even buy yourself a copy and consider it a gift to the birds and bees that visit your yard. September is a very busy time for gardeners, but it is also a rich, tasty, abundant time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Diabetes Safe Veggie Recipes:

Those lucky people who have been eating out of their gardens all summer just might be looking for some new recipes. The web site address below features a tasty summer squash side dish. If you click on the link, found below the recipe, you will find many more scrumptious, healthful, and easy dishes—all using vegetables you may already grow. With seasonal produce in mind, you’ll find four recipes that use zucchini and summer squash, including “Colorful vegetable casserole” and “Roasted vegetable and barley salad.” Two recipes use corn in unique ways. There are three recipes for peppers, two for green beans; and one each for cucumbers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and collard greens. While these recipes are designed for diabetics, everyone is likely to enjoy them. You can check the recipes out, (or print them—to give away with your excess produce) at this web site:

If you don’t have Internet access at home, call or visit your local library and sign up to use the public computers.

Russian Banana Fingerling Heirloom Potato Report

The first year I grew these tasty little potatoes, I planted them in a five gallon container. I only had a few starts and I didn’t want the gophers to get them. I started off with about four inches of potting soil, mixed half and half with good garden loam, in the bottom of the container. As the plants grew I added more soil mix. After about three months, I harvested three pounds of the cute little spuds. This year I grew some in the ground, and they also produced three pounds. However, many of the potatoes were clustered along the top of the soil, and they turned bright green. Green potatoes are bitter and they are slightly toxic. If you want to try growing these fun spuds, grow them in a container or keep them well mulched.

Russian Banana Fingerlings range in size from a small child’s finger up to a regular potato, with most of them being on the smaller side. They also tend to have a bit of a curve to them—similar to a bannana, hence their name “Banana Fingerling.” These tasty little spuds are from Russia, and they do best in spring and fall when the weather is cool. They cook up much more solid than russets and dryer than red potatoes, with a pleasant distinctive flavor of their own. While they won’t make good mashed potatoes, they are great for frying or for potato salad, as they hold up a little better than other types. They also do nicely in soups and casseroles, or better yet, scrub them up, rub them with a little olive oil, and throw them on the grill.

When visiting well stocked produce counters look for Russian Banana Fingerlings that have well developed eyes. Plant a few in a pot in a warm spot where you won’t forget them. Move the pot on to the porch this fall, if freezing weather threatens. By mid December, especially if we get a hard frost, the tops of the plants will begin to die back. That’s your clue to dig up your spuds, and fix them up for dinner. Be sure to save a few tubers to plant next spring.

Order Fall Bulbs Now

While it is hard to think about spring when we are so busy with summer’s last gasp, it is time to get out the catalogs and make your bulb selections for next year’s blooms. Flowers are never considered frivolous in the bio-diverse garden. They may only delight our eyes, but many beneficial creatures rely on the pollen and nectar they produce.

Make sure you put some early bloomers on your list. When weather warms up unexpectedly in late winter and early spring, our pollinators and other beneficial insects are lured out of their winter sleep. If they don’t find a nectar and pollen meal they may not survive to be happy garden workers next summer.

Snow Crocuses are usually the first to bloom, followed quickly by species and Dutch Crocuses. Each small bulb produces several flowers, generally one at a time. While each flower only last a day or two, it is quickly followed by a second flower and then a third. They are available in a wide range of colors, and also in mixed lots. They vary in hight from three to six inches tall, and some will bloom year after year. They can be planted along the edges of walk ways, and under deciduous trees, shrubs, and vines. They will bloom before the larger plants leaf out, and then once those plants do unfurl their leaves, they will hide the drying foliage of the resting bulbs. Gophers can develop a taste for crocus, despite what the catalogs may say. If gophers are a problem, you might want to plant your bulbs in containers or prepare shallow hardware cloth cages to bury in the ground and protect your bulbs.

Grape hyacinths begin blooming as the Crocuses fade, and they continue blooming for several weeks. They favor the same spots as the Crocus. There is some good news, as far as I know, no gopher has ever developed a taste for grape hyacinth. Mine keep coming back and they are even fuller and nicer each year. Grape hyacinths are often listed as Muscari, or sometimes as Hyacinths, in the catalogs. If you are looking for flowers that will come back year after year and that attract and nourish pollinators and beneficial insects, make sure the botanical name begins with Muscari, or is identified by “M.” There are varieties that bloom in every shade of blue, from nearly black to nearly white, as well as violet, yellow, and pure white. They range in height from four to twelve inches tall, depending on the variety. Many are fragrant and as an added bonus they thrive under walnut trees, where many plants perish.

If you don’t find the bulbs you crave locally or in your favorite catalogs, McClure & Zimmerman offers a large selection of Crocus and Muscari bulbs. They have reasonable prices, you can shop on line at, or you can request a catalog by calling 1-800-883-6998.

Learn to Attract Wildlife!

Brooklyn Botanic Garden brings us this brand new “All-Region Guide” for attracting wildlife to the garden. You will find special sections on our friends—the beneficial insects and pollinators; as well as song birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Ideas abound for special gardens or entire landscapes dedicated to wildlife. For those who don’t really like to get out and dig in the dirt, there are easy projects that utilize great looking plants grown in containers. Regional plant lists make the instructions usable, no matter where you live. An emphasis is placed on using native plants, common flowers, and edible herbs. There are also great tips on understanding the creatures life cycles, so we don’t inadvertently do things that contribute to their demise. This book could turn into a fun family activity and it could fuel many science projects. The Wildlife Gardener’s Guide, by Janet Marinelli, published by Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2008, ISBN 1-889538-37-2; available by request from bookstores and on-line book retailers.

Published in the Two Rivers Tribune 9.08 Copyright Harvest McCampbell