As I walked around the garden on the morning that I took this photo, deciding which plants would make the cut, I was struck by the shift in foliage colour. Suddenly all of the perennials had taken on their fall colour, which is why I dedicated 1/3 of the boxes this week to foliage. I will say though that looking back, I am surprised by how many flowers were in bloom, most especially the Gem marigold. That it was alive at all, and remained alive weeks after this photo was taken is a testament to the resiliency of the marigold. It’s not just the summer annual that we take it for.
The theme for this week is fruit. Fruit as a plant part as opposed to fruits such as strawberries and bananas, although you’ll notice some of those, too. It seems that fruit — some edible and some not — is forming in every corner of the garden. Flower diversity is still high, it’s just that many of the flowers are there in the service of forming fruit and are not there to be pretty in their own right.
The Scorched Earth. This is also the first week that marked significant loss and suffering as a result of the intense heat and drought we are experiencing. There are going to be some significant holes in the garden by the time the summer is out. I don’t think I am going to have extra ‘Hahms Gelbe Topftomate’ seeds as a result. I inexplicably gave all of my seedlings away but one and that one was in a pot that was cooked during this week’s heat emergency. Drat. The plant went from green and lush to yellow within the span of a single day. It is holding on and could recover if things stay as cooled off as they are now. It’s amazing what one bad day can bring. It’s a good lesson and reminder in how much we should respect our farmers who are at the mercy of whatever insanity the season brings. Amazingly, all of my other tomatoes are perfectly fine.
Red currants I harvested from our bush last weekend. It doesn’t look like much in this big basket, but it amounted to about 1 1/2 pounds of berries once the stems were removed.
These gooseberries aren’t from my garden, although judging by the chewed up state of its leaves I’d hazard a guess that they have suffered a similar plight.
A week or two back, what was supposed to be a quick trip to the community garden turned into a caterpillar squishing marathon. The gooseberry bush and the unknown bush that I think might be a black currant were teaming with teeny, tiny, very hungry currant worms, the larvae of a sawfly that specifically target currant bushes.
The little worms are pretty near impossible to detect since they are the same colour as the foliage they feast on. We found that the easiest way to find them was to follow damaged leaves — the larvae sat perfectly along the margins, hugging the curve of the leaf where they were eating.
How did we get rid of them you ask? Well, this is the first time any of my currant plants have been infested by this pest so we were caught unawares at the community garden without the usual tools: bucket, water, and soap. My usual response to this sort of situation would be to pick the worms off by hand and drop them into a bucket of soapy water. Many sites suggest spraying in these sorts of situations but I find that sprays don’t help, even the organic and supposedly safe ones. When you spray, you always run the risk of killing beneficial insects. The other problem with sprays is that they really have to get on the larvae directly in order to kill them. It just makes more sense to pluck them off by hand. It’s the same amount of work without the risk of damaging the plant or the ecological balance of your garden.
Unfortunately, we were stuck at the community garden without any supplies and had to make due with our fingers alone, squishing the little worms one at a time. I initially tried squishing them under my shoe but this proved to be time consuming since I had to crouch down low to get to the worms where they were hiding out in the shady and cool lower regions of the plant. I probably squished about hundred or possibly hundreds even (I wasn’t counting) this way. DELIGHTFUL!
Even weirder, when we were done, a bunch of carnivorous insects flew over and ate the wormy residue off the leaves!
Then I went to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine carrying my compost pail and covered in dirt, larvae residue lingering underneath my fingernails.
The good news is that we seemed to catch them before any real damage was done. The plants have sustained only minor defoliation and there are loads of berries ripening on the bush. On a positive note, the presence of the currant worm on the possible black currant bush proves that it is definitely some kind of currant.
It turns out that insect infestations can serve a useful purpose!
Can you believe these flowers belong to a black currant bush?
It recently occurred to me that I have a red currant bush and a gooseberry bush, but do not have a black currant bush. This despite the fact that I like the idea of gooseberries and red currants more than I like to eat them. Black currant on the other hand is divine.
Anyways, I actually do sort of have a black currant bush growing in my community garden plot right now. I say sort-of only because I’m not entirely sure it’s a black currant. A seedling that looks like a black currant came up as a volunteer a few years back so I stuck it in a corner and let it grow, waiting to find out what it is and hoping that it is indeed a black currant. I have absolutely no idea where the plant came from. Two years in and it is now taller than my gooseberry bush and continues to look like a black currant with the possible exception of the leaves that seem a bit too big, but it’s hard to say because some varieties do have slightly bigger leaves. Also, while at the garden centre, I noticed jostaberry, which is not unlike a black currant bush but with larger leaves. So perhaps it is a jostaberry. But who can know? Until it flowers and produces fruit, I remain in the dark. That could take another few years yet, but I like a good mystery and am willing to wait it out despite a lack of space.
Meanwhile, I have been longing for a real and true black currant and had decided I was just going to suck it up and get one. And then I almost didn’t, again. Because the bushes at the store were $14.99 each and not particularly big. And because I am cheap and figured I should just wait until the fall when they are on sale, which is how I got the gooseberry bush. However, while browsing the selection I found this one, called ‘Crandall’, with beautifully ornamental yellow and orange flowers. That sealed the deal.
You’ll note that ‘Crandall’ is not a regular black currant (Ribes nigrum), but is another species, Ribes odoratum. Apparently the berries have a spicy or clove flavor, and I can tell you that the flowers certainly do. Unfortunately, I did not choose well for my small community garden plot and managed to find the largest bush going (4ft at maturity). Some people say you need two bushes to produce fruit but other more reliable sources say you don’t. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
And there you have it. I am now the proud, albeit tentative owner of a black currant bush. Jam to come in another 12 to 24 months.