Saturday, July 30, 2011

'Fast' Food

Usually when I bring food in from the garden, I take a little time to arrange the veggies in a wooden bowl or more attractive basket for a photo. Yesterday, however, we needed some of these in the kitchen Right Away for supper, so this picture is just the jumble of veggies as they came in from the yard:


The okra was sliced, tossed into a cornmeal coating mixture, and fried. A cucumber, pepper, and a couple of tomatoes went into a salad with some parsley, red onion, cooked barley, vinegar, olive oil, black pepper, and salt. At the last minute, we grated a little Parmesan cheese into that salad. The rest of supper was mashed potatoes and some purple-hull peas that had been cooked with one of our smoked peppers. It was a great garden-themed supper!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Busy Times

The green beans are from a friend's giant garden/small farm, but the canning was all Joe's doing. He's not teaching this summer, so he's had time to work on preserving most of the produce. I canned the "black & blue" berry jam that's mostly hidden (you can just see the tops of five small jars . . .), and I canned those peppers, which in this photo are still whole but later made four full quarts of pickled pepper rings.



Tomorrow is a volunteering/gardening day, but I hope to have the energy afterward to work on getting more produce into the cupboards. Joe has filled the dehydrator with tomato slices, but I think we have enough tomatoes left here to fill some jars, which means we have some more canning ahead.



I also bought quite a lot of Georgia peaches over the weekend. They were like little tart rocks when I got them, but they are ready for eating now. I'm thinking that a batch of peach preserves would be a nice thing, and if there are enough to put a bag or two of slices in the freezer for future smoothies, that would also be good.

We had rain yesterday, which means I don't have to get up extra-early tomorrow to water. What a gift that is! Hope all the other gardens out there are doing well.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

When 'Organic' Gardening Goes Horribly Wrong

I have a friend who's had some trouble with his tomatoes and peppers this year. I never seem to have a camera handy when I'm out at his garden/farm, but I can say that the leaves on most of the tomato and pepper plants in most parts of his garden are narrow and twisty with weird pointy parts.

At first, I thought the problem might be a virus (it definitely wasn't a fungal or bacterial infection), but it seemed that the problem might also be caused by herbicide residues in the soil. My friend uses horse manure, but he was a little doubtful when I said that I thought herbicide residues might be causing the problem. He ages that manure in huge piles for a full year, and he's never had this problem before (in more than 20 years of using manure as his main source of organic matter in the soil).

To find out for sure, I did the experiment described in various places online. I took some of his soil home with me, mixed it half & half with potting soil, then divided that into three pots. I did the same thing with soil from my own garden so I'd have a control to compare the results to.

Then I went to one of those big box stores and bought a four-pack of Big Boy tomatoes. I planted two in his pots, two in mine, and planted bean seeds (five each) in the other two pots.

In the bean pots, four germinated in my pot and only one in his, but they seemed to be mostly ok after coming up.

After three weeks, this is what the leaves on my tomato plants look like:



And these are the leaves on his tomato plants:




I'm pretty sure this means that herbicide residue is the problem, and it turns out that the problem showing up most often at the County Extension office this year is this exact problem -- damage from herbicide residues. In most instances, the damage is worse because people have used grass clippings from lawns sprayed within the last month or so right on their gardens as mulch. At least my friend's source of herbicides has sat around for a full year, giving it more time to break down and disappear.

The real frustration here is that people are trying to do the right thing -- using local amendments to improve their soil (my friend) or local mulches (others) to reduce evaporation from the soil, saving water, and to reduce the need for weeding. These uses also keep organic matter out of the landfill.

I brought my experiment to an organic gardening class I was co-teaching with the leader of the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden, and it turned out that one person who showed up had already had the damage-from-grass-clipping problem.

Another had bought some hay to use as mulch in her garden that has always been managed using organic-approved practices and never had any big disease problems. She and her husband had brought leaves (thankfully in plastic bags, so spores weren't getting loose all over the place) from plants in her yard to show several disease problems that seemed to have arrived with the hay.

They had been told that the hayfield had never been sprayed, and I had a huge moment of doubt about that, but after more thought this seems totally possible. If the field hadn't been sprayed, it probably had a lot of weeds in it. Some of those weeds were probably in the same families as the now-infected garden plants (including the tomatoes). Weeds could easily be carriers of diseases that her garden had never before been exposed to.

This is all one big cautionary tale. I am now thinking about ways to get more organic matter into my garden without actually bringing it in from the outside, because the outside is looking pretty untrustworthy. I've grown winter cover-crops before. The vetch that I grew wasn't especially attractive, or all that easy to dig back into the soil in spring, but I am thinking about trying that again.

I've also read in Dick Raymond's "The Joy of Gardening" that in plots where he had experimented with growing two crops of edible legumes (beans, peas, not vetch) in the succession with other crops, the soil was great. He had dug in all the crop residues from the two legume crops. His method calls for growing a lot of peas.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Real Tomatoes. Finally.



The veggies above are from yesterday. There were more today, and Joe made a great pasta sauce for part of tonight's supper that was almost all from the yard. It included our own tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, garlic, oregano, and thyme.

All the main crop of tomatoes are finally beginning to come in. We have Cherokee Purple, Rutgers, and Wuhib (paste-type) ripening in a big wave.

We're still getting plenty of cucumbers, but I expect that to end soon. The peppers, though, are going to be providing for us for a while.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Overgrown

My front yard is hilariously overgrown right now. The first cucumbers will be coming out soon because they're looking a little mildewed, and some of the herbs that are going to seed will be trimmed back and look a little less unruly, but the corn will be there for a while; it's popcorn that needs to stay on the stalk to dry for several weeks after maturing.



Right now, the sweet potatoes, just left/front of the corn in the photo below, are looking very healthy, and in another week or two, they are going to really sprawl all over the place. Their area will look less and less tidy as the summer progresses (but it will be glorious!).

My harvests are still heavily skewed toward cucumbers.


As a result, we've been eating a lot of a modified version of "Israeli salad," something I learned to make a long time ago, from a friend of a friend's grandmother.

The version I learned is approximately equal parts finely chopped cucumber and tomato, about a half part finely diced onion, the same for parsley, a little salt, then lemon juice and olive oil as dressing. This should sit for a few hours in the fridge before being served. I never wrote down exact proportions for all the ingredients because I watched it being made and figured out how to just "eyeball it."

However, for anyone interested in giving this a try, there is a more precise version of the recipe at MyJewishLearning.com.

The salads we've been making over the last few weeks have zero tomatoes because we've had so many cucumbers and so few (or zero!) tomatoes. I've been using lots of parsley, too, because the swallowtail butterflies haven't found my parsley yet. When they do, and their little caterpillars start to grow, it will be all over for my parsley.

Lately, I've been going light on the onion, partly because I've been taking it in my lunchbox to work, and partly because I'm running low on onions grown in my own yard. I find myself balking at the thought of actually buying onions before August.

Soon we'll have more tomato to add to the salad. My first-crop tomato plants are loaded with green fruits, and each plant has a few tomatoes that are beginning to show the pink blush that signals the beginning of ripening. It's been a long wait, but we are almost there . . .

Squash Vine Borer Unveiled

One of my favorite neighbors stopped by the other day to let me know that he was going to find the borers in the squash stems in his Mom's garden. I walked back to his yard with him to see the damage.



His Mom was there, too, so I got out my pocket knife and handed it to my friend (after asking his Mom if he was old enough, at 9, to use one). The stem was still tough, so getting to the borers wasn't easy, but it turned out that the stem was pretty full of the little guys.



The larval borer, on first glance, resembles a grub more than a caterpiller, but the lifecycle of this particular insect is well-documented. We know what it is.



In my yard, I sprayed the zucchini with Bt (bacterial product that is toxic to caterpillars) once each week through June, but the plants haven't been sprayed since I got back from Texas. The spraying did seem to delay the borers in my yard, but my squash plants are just about done-in, too. Luckily, I have some young squash plants growing under netting right now. They have begun to flower, so the netting will come off soon.

The netting prevents the adult borer moth from laying eggs on my plants, but it also will keep bees and other pollinators away from the flowers.

Right now, the flowers are all male. When I see the first female flowers getting ready to open, I might pull off that netting. I might, though, hand-pollinate those plants until they are just too big to fit under the netting. That strategy would probably give me the most squash.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wild Harvest

It seems awfully early for cauliflower mushrooms to be up, but here they are:



They joined a small pile of yellow chanterelle mushrooms in the kitchen, and were just wonderful to eat.



I am pretty sure that cauliflower mushrooms are my favorite of the wild mushrooms that we eat. Chanterelles are pretty good too, which is a lucky thing because there are so many more of them. In the last few days, Joe and I have also found a few black trumpets and some teeny, tiny cinnabar red chanterelles.

The cauliflower mushrooms we just sauteed in butter and ate, but the chanterelles have been added to a wide assortment of other foods, including spaghetti sauce, sauteed yellow squash, eggplant & zuchini fritters, and scrambled eggs. There are more of those yellow mushrooms in a basket on the kitchen counter, so I am assuming that they will add to yet another meal this evening. Not sure yet what that will be, though.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

While I Was Out

The boy did a great job of looking after the garden while his parents (Joe and I) were traveling. We returned to find an abundance of cucumbers and zucchini, and the beginnings of the eggplant and tomato harvests:



What's especially great is that he ate quite a bit of food from the garden, and there is still so much! One evening he called and asked how to cook green beans, and when we got back I noticed that several onions are no longer around -- I'm assuming those also were used in meal-preparation. And, he mentioned having eaten cucumbers and zucchini and blueberries. I am pretty pleased with the outcomes all around.

Meanwhile, "pepper alley" has really poured on the steam in terms of production. The bell peppers are getting big:



As are the grilling peppers:



The Czech Black jalapeno plant is pretty well covered in little hot peppers:



And the Feherezon peppers are also producing well.



The melon plants are beginning to make little tiny melons, and I am looking forward to watching those mature. The popcorn is tall and just starting to tassle, but the okra haven't opened any flowers yet. Soon, though, that too will begin.

I am very feeling very fortunate in having had some good-enough gardening weather here, and a son who is both willing and able to take care of the garden (and house and dogs and cat) while I'm gone.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Road Trip

Joe and I left the boy (age 20) and his friend in charge of the house, the garden, the pets, and have driven west to visit relatives. Everyone else is having a lot more trouble with drought than we are in the Atlanta area, so I have been counting my blessings as we go.

The garden of my sister in Louisiana is doing pretty well, but she has had to spend some serious time watering out there to make that happen. Joe enjoyed walking through with his harmonica. I'm pretty sure he was playing "O Suzanna" when I took this picture.



Her Silver Queen corn has done especially well this year, but it was almost done by the time we got there.



The Purple Martins are an essential part of her pest-management plan. This house stands right in the center of her garden.



In the Texas Hill Country, Joe's sister and brother-in-law's garden has more problems than just drought, but this year all the gardens in the area are suffering from extreme drought. Apparently, they've had one inch of rain since October.



The high fence is necessary because these wander freely through the neighborhood:


We've really enjoyed visiting with the relatives (Joe's sisters, brother, and Mother all live in the Austin area and most of my family is gathered outside of Houston for the Fourth), but the drought is severe enough that fireworks have been banned. The men have a plan that involves Mentos and diet soda pop that I am pretty sure involves some loud noise (the two can be combined to make rockets and fountains and the sound of exploding). I'm sure we will all be entertained.
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