Battling Ants and Aphids – Part II

In my last post, Battling Ants & Aphids Part I, an army of ants harvesting aphids had taken over my tomatoes and my artichoke.  I set out Terro Ant Baits to see if they would keep the ants at bay. Well, the ants (and the aphids) are still around.  The Terro Baits can take up to three months to work, time that my tomatoes don’t have. My tomatoes are at the end of their season anyway, so I’ve decided to pull them out and start over.  I set aside the green tomatoes to make Fried Green Tomatoes.

Sometimes pulling out your veggies that aren’t doing well feels really good.  It’s almost like getting rid of stuff in your garage that you don’t need anymore.  Once I removed the tomatoes, I added a few handfuls of Dr. Earth Start Up fertilizer, a few handfuls of worm castings and some water. I’ll let the soil sit for a few days to give it time to rejuvenate.  It’s nice to make space for new veggies.  I’ll plant some beans, lettuces, and Brussels sprout in that space.

With the artichoke plant, I need to keep it going.  Artichokes are perennials (they will last for years and produce artichokes a few times a year).  I am going to continue to keep the Terro Baits out while spraying inside the artichoke with Pyola to kill the aphids every ten days or so. Pyola is a powerful organic pesticide, so I’ll also spray worm tea on the leaves to strengthen the plant every few weeks.  Hopefully this slow and steady method will keep my artichoke alive.  We’ve harvested one artichoke so far (and it was delicious) and have three baby ones growing. It is certainly a determined plant despite its battle with the aphids.

The most important guideline in gardening is to embrace “failure.” As the Latin maxim goes, Discimus Agere Agendo, we learn to do by doing.  The only way to learn how to garden is to do it. The wonderful thing about gardening is that you can always start over and that feels great.

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Fried Green Tomatoes

When it’s time to pull out tomatoes, oftentimes there will be lots of green ones left on the vine. This is the perfect opportunity to make fried green tomatoes. I mix my green tomatoes with sweet grape or baby tomatoes for a combined taste of sweet and tangy.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Green tomatoes of any variety (as many as you want to cook – ideally at least 1 pound)
  • Baby red tomatoes (use a ratio of 1:1 or 2:1, green:red tomatoes)
  • 1 egg (more depending on the amount you want to cook)
  • Flour (1-2 cups)
  • Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs (ratio of 2:1 white flour to bread crumbs)
  • Olive Oil (for frying)
  • Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

KITCHEN TOOLS:

  • 3 bowls
  • 1 platter
  • 1 plate
  • Paper towel
  • Large deep skillet
  • Metal tongs
  • Metal slotted spoon or spatula

DIRECTIONS:

Slice the tomatoes into 1/8 inch slices and place into a bowl. Scramble one egg and put into a separate bowl. Mix flour and bread crumbs into a separate bowl. Dip the tomatoes into the egg batter, then the flour and lay them individually on a large plate.  Make sure the tomatoes are fully covered with the flour mixture so that they are dusty (not wet) with flour. Meanwhile, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil in the deep skillet  (the amount of olive oil depends on the size of the pan). Heat the olive oil until it bubbles when dropping in a test tomato. Fry the tomatoes in batches for a few minutes on each side. Do not flip until one side is golden brown. If the oil is not hot enough, the tomatoes will be soggy.   Lay each batch of fried tomatoes on a paper towel to soak up extra oil. Add a layer of paper towel on the platter in-between each batch of fried tomatoes. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Serve immediately and enjoy.

Note: Olive oil has a low smoke point- do NOT overheat the olive oil.

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Battling Aphids and Ants – Part I

I planted my tomatoes in May or June (honestly, I can’t remember), but it was sometime in the late spring.  I bought four heirloom tomato seedlings from Jimmy Williams at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.  I followed Jimmy’s advice and didn’t trim off the “suckers” and  let the tomatoes run wild, only picking off leaves that looked yellow and unhealthy.  Before I knew it, a month or so later, we had gorgeous tomatoes that were delicious.

But then I got BUSY. I was working 50 hours per week and didn’t check my dear tomatoes every day or so. While I was driving away on the I-10 into Hollywood to work, the aphids were moving in.  And then the ants followed.  Not good.  Ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship. The aphids feed on the plant and excrete “honeydew” which the ants WANT. The ants are so obsessed with this honeydew that they will fight off aphid predators and actually bring the aphid eggs into their nest to protect them. The ants will then transport the aphid eggs to a new plant location.  This situation doesn’t bode well for any crop. My tomato plants weren’t looking happy, their leaves were yellowing and the fruit yield tapered. The ants and aphids had also attacked my artichoke plant.

I first attempted to hose off the aphids. They wash off really easily as they are delicate little critters. You can even wipe them off with your fingers. But, the next day, the aphids were back. So I got my organic aphid sprays and tried different ones over the next few weeks.  They were all effective for the aphids, but no match for the ants.  I then bought ladybugs.  They stuck around for a while (a sign that there is food like aphids for them), but then they took off. The ants were incorrigible.  Ugh! Was I frustrated and my poor tomatoes and artichoke were suffering.

I went to the Good Foods Festival in Santa Monica and met Christy Wilhelmi of gardenerd.com.  She is extremely knowledgeable and she told me that I MUST get rid of the ants to get rid of the aphids. She recommended Terro Ant Baits which are safe for organic gardens. You can find them here.  I purchased a pack and I’m still waiting for the results.  I’ll get back to you and let you know how it goes.

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