HeliosMonroe turned eight this year – happy blog birthday!

Recent Helios highlights include good gardening, giant sunflowers, house renovations, and lots of walks around Mt Pleasant with Mazie.  Other endeavors include the beginnings of a hop yard, planting a patch of  Allium tricoccum (ramps) and letting the sun shine in.


Sand is generally not a good growing medium for plants, a closed bag of sand even less so.  But Ailanthus altissima (also known as Tree-of-Heaven) will grow just about anywhere including a closed bag of sand. A closed bag of sand exposed to direct sunlight and summer heat.

While unwanted and unwelcome, there is something to be said for the tenacity of a tree that not only grows in Brooklyn but anywhere else.

And although Alianthus hasn’t invaded my blog, I have written about it here and here.

Sumac        Sumac2


There are plenty of good looking tomatoes ripening on the vine in various plots in my community garden. There are also a number of very sad looking tomatoes with yellowing/brown leaves and withering stalks.

Are DC gardeners destined to eventually lose their tomatoes to wilts or blights or other diseases?  My answer is no, and here are some tips to help combat tomato collapse:

  1. Testing your soil. You can improve your chances of growing good crops if your soil has the right balance of nutrients. Right now UDC is offering free testing during July and August. Another  option is UMass Amherst’s soil testing lab.
  2. Watering slowly and deep – slowly so water doesn’t splash onto the leaves, deep so that roots grow down and pick up more nutrients. Best time to water is in the morning
  3. Cutting off leaves when there is a hint of yellow or brown – or proactively cutting off the bottom sets of leaves to mitigate splashing spores onto the leaves in the first place
  4. Practicing good sanitation – don’t touch the tomato leaves when they are wet, don’t inadvertently spread disease by touching unaffected plants after you’ve been handling diseased plants
  5. My alley neighbor, who was a knowledgeable gardener, swore by using a copper spray to combat these diseases. I’ve also read of an effective spray using baking soda or potassium bicarbonate called the Cornell spray. The Internets also shows gardeners using copper wire (inserted into plant stem just above soil line) or making a cut and inserting a copper penny. I think I’ll stick with the methods listed above.

In some cases, the tomatoes aren’t affected (although the plant looks stunted). But if the stalk is withered then the plant should be pulled up and put into your trash (not compost pile). Any tomatoes on the vine should be fine to eat. If they’re green, leave them on your counter top to see if they ripen. Or look up some good green tomato recipes (like this green tomato curry).

What are your tips for growing good tomatoes?



Or, why is there a big pile of basil on my counter? They looked so modest when first planted back in May – one stem, a few leaves…who knew that they would turn into 5′ multi-stemmed plants? Well yes I knew, but between one growing season and another that lesson was un-learned.

And another lesson un-learned is that basil leaves needs to be picked regularly. When the plants started to outgrow consumption, it needed to be whacked back. Cutting off half – or more – of the stems is about right. Otherwise the basil starts to go to seed and the plant’s energy turns from leaf production to seed production.

And if you forget both of these lessons, you’ll end up with a  big pile delightful overabundance of basil on your counter. Next up, what in the world will I do with this big pile?


Hard to believe my Serviceberry tree (Amelanchier laevis) looked like this when it was planted in 2010. As part of  DC’s DOE RiverSmart Home Program, my front yard was BayScaped  which included a native tree planted by Casey Trees

Each year my tree has grown, but this year it GREW! And this year it demonstrated why it is called Serviceberry – we had a delightful overabundance of serviceberries! There was enough to share with the birds (or the birds shared with me). In any case, a long cool spring resulted in beautiful serviceberries by the bucketful (ka-plink, ka-plank, ka-plunk).


Amelanchier  laevis

Delightful overabundance, that’s the term I was looking for to describe when my garden begins to produce just a few too many cucumbers and tomatoes.  I mean, I like cucumbers but think my RDA is two per day and I’m picking four/day.

After giving away what I can to neighbors, etc I still have plenty of produce.  Because the next day there are four more cucumbers and five more tomatoes,

There are plenty of things to do with excess  – I mean a delightful overabundance – of  vegetables. First up, pickles! I was looking for an easy refrigerator kind of pickle and found this SmittenKitchen recipe which served as the foundation. I added other spices – pickling spice from the last time I made pickles, dill weed and seed, hot pepper flakes. A little sugar, some garlic. Now comes the hard part – waiting until they are ready.

Raw pickles

Pickles and cukes








Note:  As you can see, the number of cucumbers has not decreased substantially. While I wasn’t looking, they made more.

An unexpected and prolonged blogging break, but Helios Monroe is open for blogging business again. And what better way to start than this season’s first garden haul.

The first cherry tomatoes were ripe on June 28th – Sungold cherries which are early, prolific and disease resistant :


Fast forward a few weeks –  here comes pepper, edamame, lots of cucumbers and the last of the peas. And tomatoes! And, some bonus volunteer sunflowers:










This Brandywine tomato deserved a photo of its own:










And what to make with this garden bounty? First up, a Turkish Shepherd’s Salad (also known as Çoban Salatası).  Now I have to think of something special for this beautiful Brandywine tomato. Suggestions welcome!





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