Thursday, December 27, 2012

Indoor Blueberry Babies

It's taken awhile, but a couple of the blueberry seeds that I planted in November have sprouted. If all goes well, several more will come up in the next few weeks. However, if this is all I get, I can't really complain.

The seeds were from berries that had been in the freezer, from the rabbiteye blueberry bushes in the front yard. When the house was smashed by the tree this past summer, the berries probably experienced more freeze/thaw cycles than were good for the seeds' eventual ability to germinate.

The baby plants are super-tiny, with stems thinner than sewing thread and cotyledons sized to match. For the rest of the winter, these will grow fairly slowly, and I will be keeping them under flourescent lights, repotting as necessary, until the weather moderates enough that they can go outside. Then, as many as there are will go into a "nursery bed" outside until they are big enough to pot up for sharing. One of the great things about gardening is that I get to see everyday miracles like the one of  such tiny plants growing to become full-sized bushes!

To separate the seeds from the blueberry pulp, I followed instructions from University of Maine's Cooperative Extension, which has published a very useful "how to" called "Growing Blueberries from Seed." 

I started these seeds as part of my "eHow" adventure. This is the video about how to plant the seeds:



Since the winter garden is slowing down, and the weather has turned decidedly colder, I am very happy to have some new plants to tend indoors.

I hope that everyone else's winter-garden adventures are going well!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Crazy for (or because of) Cauliflower

The cauliflower season at my house is short, which makes it (in theory, anyway) all the sweeter. I've been growing my cauliflower from transplants purchased at a standard garden-supply-type store, and it probably is a good thing that the transplants aren't available as early in the fall as I'd like to plant them.

When planted too soon, the heads mature in weather that is too warm - which leads to weirdness. A Q and A on the University of Illinois website tells exactly what happens:

Q. What causes leaves in the head and separation of the head into loose, smaller curds?


A. These conditions are caused when cauliflower matures during hot weather. Try to time maturity dates of cauliflower to minimize the risk of extreme heat as the heads form.

As a gardener who has seen this in action in her own yard, I know firsthand that this outcome is a huge disappointment, mostly because the flavor is affected, too. This is what can happen when cauliflower is planted in August. However, later plantings run the risk of not having enough time to mature before colder weather sets in. The window of opportunity is a small one, and it can be hard to gage.

The  cauliflower in the lower left corner is pink and "curdled."

Have you ever been driving down the road when a squirrel races out right in front of your car, and then while you are busy applying your brakes and mentally urging the squirrel to keep going - please! - the squirrel makes a heart-stopping dramatic pause smack in front of the car, and then, at the last second, when the car is so close that you can't actually see the little animal anymore, it darts onward, but the only way you know it finally raced away is that you didn't feel its little body go under the wheels?

Growing cauliflower can seem a little like that. Lives aren't at stake (thank goodness), but the drama is there, unfolding in slow motion. This year, I ended up with a decent amount of good cauliflower and a little weird cauliflower.

In other words, my timing wasn't perfect, but it wasn't awful, either.

Some of this year's weird cauliflower turned pink. I've done quite a bit of searching for possible causes, and it turns out that some cauliflower has more pinkish-purple pigmentation than other cauliflower.

According to the University of Illinois (see earlier link, above), if I had done a better job of pulling leaves over the heads to keep the sunlight off as they formed, the pink might not have appeared at all. In other words, the pink was unexpected, but it's not outside of the realm of normal for cauliflower.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Adventures in eHow

Several weeks ago I spent part of one day working with a video guy who produced educational films for Demand Media Studios, which had a deal to post them in eHow. In about five hours we made 17 little films about various gardening topics.

He got paid, but I didn’t, even though I worked hard, too. However, it was a very interesting experience. I had wondered about the whole eHow thing, and now I know a bit more about how it works.

The topics had to be chosen from a list provided by Demand Media Studios, and the wording wasn’t allowed to vary. For example, if the topic had the phrase “blueberry tree” in it, those exact words had to be in the introduction to the video. At first, this seemed a little weird to me, but it turns out to be a way to reach the audience where it is in terms of gardening knowledge, and the audience is full of people who might not yet know that blueberries grow on bushes rather than trees.

The experience also helped me understand why some eHow videos seem incomplete. We were given a pretty tight time limit for each video. There was only enough time for the "bare bones" of each topic, which meant that I had to leave out some potentially useful information. Also, because the filmmaker/videographer needed to have at least 15 little films lined up to make his trip out to my garden at all profitable, and because we had to choose from a somewhat eclectic list of topics, we were not quite “in season” for all the topics being filmed.

The good news is that the list included enough topics for which I had actual, real-life experience that we were able to pull the project together. Here is one example from the set:



When I started this blog, one main motivation was to share information - that might actually be helpful - about growing food in gardens here in the South. The Atlanta area in particular is packed with people who are not originally from here. I’m a perfect example: grew up in Oklahoma, but previously gardened in other states, including the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where growing food was super easy.

It would be pretty safe to bet that I am not the only person who has found gardening here a bit more of a challenge than it was in my previous yard.

I don’t know yet whether making eHow videos is at all helpful to gardeners who are new either to this area or to gardening itself, so I don't know whether I'll be making more of these, but I am happy to have been able to participate in this little project.

(Note: The videos are on an assortment of topics, including raspberries, blueberries, fertilizers, transplanting, plant propagation, and soil preparation; hence, the long list of "Labels" attached to this blog post.)


Monday, December 3, 2012

Tracking the Harvest: Nov. 2012

I'm pretty sure I've picked a lot more lettuce than is recorded here. I bring some in several days each week for the bunnies, but by the time it hits the kitchen it's mixed with chickweed, violet leaves, dandelions and chicory, bits of dill and fennel that are still green, parsley, and other bunny-friendly weeds and herbs.

The harvest total is suffering a little as a result, but the bunnies are doing great!

As always, the recorded weights are in kilograms:


Nov.
Persimmons, Asian
0.8
Radish, winter
0.3
Lettuce
0.45
spinach
0.3
Broccoli
1.85
Cabbage
1.75
Carrots
0.45
Bok Choy
0.85
Potatoes, sweet
0.35
Onions, green
0.15
Potatoes
0.65

I found a couple more good sweet potatoes when I was digging over the space for multiplying onions. They were an unexpected treat! I am sure I'm not the only gardener to uncover more spuds - of any kind - weeks after the initial harvest.

Overall, the November harvest was not especially large, but it was varied. November's harvest total is 7.85 kg, which equals 17 pounds, 4.9 oz.

The running total for 2012, Jan. through Nov., is 189.2 kg, or about 417 pounds. 
I can't complain, but I also think I can do better. Maybe in 2013 I'll be 100% consistent about recording the weights of absolutely everything that I bring in from the yard, including the bunny salad, and maybe I'll do better at planning (and implementing the plan) to not let any space go empty.
The future is hard to predict, so I won't make any guarantees, but I am hoping to do better next year!
 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Carrots, Catalogues, and a Mixed Up Plant

What a great time of year it is for gardeners! It isn't meltingly hot outside, but there is still food in the yard to harvest for supper.  The carrots are only just now getting big enough, but it's looking like I can quit buying carrots for a month or so.

The carrots in the yard are extra-sweet, too. These look like they are probably a Danvers-type, but when I planted carrots I had a little bit each of several kinds. I'm not sure when I'll run across a Chanteney or a Nantes, but that will happen eventually, if any of them germinated (some seeds were fairly old).

Other good news is that the seed catalogues have begun to arrive. Seeds Of Change hit the mailbox before Thanksgiving, and Fedco came today. The Fedco catalogue is especially wonderful this year because it contains poems and quotes by Wendell Berry (bio here and a great poem here), one of my favorite writers.

Neither of these first two catalogues is my main source of seeds (that would be Sand Hill Preservation), but they are great for the beginning of planning next year's garden.

Yet more good - or at least interesting - news, is that my key lime tree, a.k.a. "Old Spikey," is in bloom.  The plant is a month or two ahead of its usual flowering schedule, but the year has been weird. How can I be surprised?

Plenty of beautiful, warm weather is forecast for the upcoming week, so we've rolled Old Spikey out of the dining room - its winter home - and out onto the back deck. For the next week, anyway, we will be able to maneuver around the dining room without the risk of being raked by two-inch spines.



Outside this afternoon, Old Spikey was host to some honeybees that must have been grateful, in their own little honeybee way, for some fresh pollen and nectar. The whole plant was haloed with scent and sound - a honeybee oasis!

I hope that everyone else's gardens are lively and productive, too!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Asian Persimmon - Ichi Ki Kei Jiro

I planted this Asian Persimmon tree four years ago. It set a few fruits last year, but they didn't stay on the tree long enough to ripen. This is the first year for us to harvest any of these.

Ichi Ki Kei Jiro is one of the persimmons that is supposed to be completely devoid of that usual persimmon-astringency. That has turned out to be absolutely true for the fruits on this little tree.

After years of eating native persimmons, it's a little strange to bite into a hard persimmon without its biting back, but these fruits can be eaten when they are hard like apples. They are an odd color for "apples," but when they turn orange, even if they are still quite firm, they are sweet and non-astringent.

However,  just because they CAN be eaten when hard, that doesn't mean it's the best plan.
We tried a couple of these when they were still as firm as apples, and they were fine, but then we waited for one to soften some, to see what that would be like, and the wait was totally worthwhile.

The mushy-soft persimmon had a lot more flavor than just sugary sweetness. We sliced it in half and ate the soft pulpy innards out with a spoon, and the flavor approached the "food of the gods" aspect of native persimmons that their Latin name implies.

The rest of these bright orange fruits aren't coming into the kitchen until they start turning brown and mushy and looking like they might be "going bad," because that is when they will just be getting good.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

First Frost in Our Yard!

We heard that there was a frost coming, but very few of the plants currently out there needed protection. However, I was hoping to be able to help the potatoes through the night; they are very tender.

I piled leaves around the stems and draped a flannel sheet over the patch, but the freeze was deeper than just a little dip down to 32 degrees.

In the end, the measures I took weren't enough. The stems of the potato plants (and the nasturtiums) turned to mush.

The good news is that, even though most of the spuds had only pushed plants up out of the ground a month or so ago, a couple had come up earlier, and there was a little harvest to dig up today.

When I had dug up last spring's potatoes, I had saved some of the little ones in the fridge to replant in August. I was hoping to trick the little spuds into thinking that their dormancy period was over, but the trick only worked on a couple of them. I'll have to rethink the plan next summer to figure out a way to get a more abundant autumn harvest. I'm pleased enough that the couple of early-birds produced a few spuds for us, and we are looking forward to eating them.

Along with the spuds, I brought in some broccoli to serve with tonight's supper and a winter radish to have sliced thin and salted with our pre-dinner snacks. The potatoes will be for another day.
The freeze wasn't hard enough to harm the cauliflower, which is good, because they are the most tender of the brassicas out in the yard. Broccoli and cabbages can take much lower temperatures without harm.

We had one of the cabbages - the first of the season! - with our Thanksgiving Day meal. There are more that are getting close to harvest-size.
Elsewhere in the garden, the garlic are still all below ground, but the shallots are coming up.
The lettuces are still perking away - but we've had a lot less of these than my bunnies have. Moonpie and her babies are pretty big lettuce-eaters.
Overall, I'd have to say that the yard made it through this first very late frost in good shape. The weird part is that it Really Was the First Frost! I think that the official UGA weather station in Dallas, GA, recorded a frost about a week ago, but it was on a night for which the temperatures were patchy - my yard made it through that earlier "frost" without any frost at all. Last night - the night of Nov. 24 - was the first for my yard.

I'm not going to complain (I usually expect a first frost around the end of October), but I will say that it's weird.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transplant without Trauma

My friend pictured below, Mr. Collins, knows I'm nuts about gardening, and he brought another of his really great ideas into the office to show me what he'd worked out.  He grows plants from seeds to transplant into his garden, but he had been having trouble with the loose potting mix he was using.

When he moved the plants from the pots to the garden, the loose mix would fall away from the rootball, resulting in some damage to the root system. This happened often enough that he spent some time thinking about ways to get around that problem. He wanted to "Transplant without Trauma."
He actually was working with more than one idea. The one that seemed most successful was lining the pot with an old mesh produce bag. After fitting the bag into place, he adds the potting mix and baby plant. When it's time to move the plant into the garden, he just lifts the whole shebang out of the pot by the edge of the mesh that is sticking out of the pot and plants it, mesh bag and all. The roots grow through the mesh with no trouble. The planting mix doesn't shift, and the roots remain undisturbed.
Another idea had been to put an old jar lid - that has a big spikey nail sticking up higher than the sides of the pot - into the bottom of the pot before adding the potting medium and baby plant. The theory had been that he would just have to pull the spikey nail up and the plant would come with it, but on its own this wasn't enough to hold the soil together. However, combined with a mesh bag, it works as a 'helper" mechanism.
Another very simple tool that he brought was the blue lid in the photo above. He made the cut-away portion large enough to fit easily around the stem of the plant he needed to remove from its pot - the slit in the rim is designed to open up the space to wrap this around the stem. When the blue lid is in place, right against the soil, the pot is turned upside down to pop the plant out. The blue lid holds the soil and plant together better than when he does this the usual way - with just his hand across the top of the pot. The lid stops the jolting fall of the soil/root mass into his hand.

It was really great of Mr. Collins to stop by with his ideas. I am sure I am not the only person who has a stash of those mesh bags waiting to be re-purposed. Usually, I scrunch/knot them up to use as scrubbies in the kitchen, but they are very long lasting, and I have a pile of spares.

Out in my garden now, I have some broccoli that experienced the traumatic version of transplanting, because I bought the plant babies in a nine-pack from a garden-supply store. The good news is that it all seems to have recovered well enough.

Ditto for the cabbages and the cauliflower. I think, though, that if I had been growing my own from seed, and if I were starting them a little late (not an unusual occurance), that I would want to find a way to reduce trauma to the plants so they would be more likely to experience less of a slow-down in their growth. I think I will be looking around for some more mesh bags to keep on hand, just in case.


In places other than my yard, pecans have been dropping to the ground. I hope I'm not the only person who finds herself at the end of the day with a pocketfull of pecans that have been picked up on, say, a noon walk.

I've been picking up a half-dozen or so most days, and even though there are barely enough for a pie at this point, I am looking forward to a peaceful few evenings of cracking pecans by the fireplace later in the winter.

There's not much to complain about  these days - I have family, friends, pets, an un-smashed house, an interesting job, pecans making lumps in my pocket, good food growing out in the yard, and more. I plan to spend the next several days being extra-thankful.

I hope that you all have a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Raspberries in the South

I grow two kinds of raspberries in my yard, and in both cases I am flirting with the edge of their hardiness zones. Mostly, it gets way too hot and humid here for raspberries, and diseases (that should have killed them off) abound. It’s probably a minor miracle that I have enjoyed as much fruit from these plants as I have so far.

The Heritage red raspberries have been in the same bed in the backyard for about 20 years. They were among the first perennial food-crops we planted when we moved here 22 years ago. The Jewel black raspberries have been in the front yard for only three (or maybe four) years.

Heritage is an erect, primocane type, which means that the moderately prickly canes typically grow to only about four feet high and stay (mostly) upright, and that they produce fruit in late summer on canes that first appeared just that previous spring – on canes that are only several months old. You can plant Heritage in spring and expect fruit in the late summer of that very first year. Those same canes can also produce fruit in the following spring if they are left in place over the winter.

Jewel, a trailing, floricane type, has crazy long thorny canes that fall all over the place if left unchecked, and it produces fruit in spring on canes that first appeared the previous spring, a full year later. In other words, the first fruit on a new plant will be produced the second year that the plant is in the ground.

Neither of these varieties is recommended by UGA as being good-to-grow in most of Georgia. The UGA publication “Home Garden Raspberries and Blackberries” does mention that Heritage (plus Redwing, Carolina, Nantahala, and Latham) produces well in the mountain and upper Piedmont areas, but the publication focuses mostly on blackberries and the trailing red raspberry variety called Dormanred.

The hilariously unappealing information offered about Dormanred is this: “Fruit must be very ripe to be sweet; good producer statewide; better cooked than fresh…” The North Carolina State University publication “Raspberries in the Home Garden” echoes the faint praise by saying that Dormanred fruits are “glossy red, fair quality.” In other words, if we want to eat good, fresh raspberries, most Southerners will need to hop in the car and drive north - or way uphill - to find them.

In cooler regions, raspberries are grown in full sun to get the best production from the plants. Here in my yard, the raspberries are in partial shade. The Heritage bed in the backyard gets full sun for only about 5 or 6 hours, and those are not late-afternoon hours. I think this has helped the plants’ longevity, even though it means that the productivity isn’t very high.

When I was thinking about where to plant the black raspberries, I remembered that – when we used to live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia – I had seen wild black raspberries on woodland edges where they got morning rather than afternoon sun. I didn’t have a spot exactly like that, but I do have a spot that's on the north edge of a tree/shrub area that also has a very small tree blocking part of the late-afternoon sun, and Jewel seems to be doing well enough in that place.

We also are growing the invasive Wineberry, because it, like the other two, produces delicious berries.

I'm thinking about raspberries now because some of the Jewel canes have tip-rooted, and the babies, which are in very inconvenient places, need to be moved. I've already moved a couple of the babies into pots, and the rest will be dug up soon. There's also some pruning to do - removing the older, second-year canes before insects and diseases find them and move in.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tracking the Harvest: Sept. and Oct.

(7 Nov. question: When I look at this post in "edit" mode, I see the Sept. and Oct. harvest totals, but when I look at the post just in viewing mode, I see the August data. What are other people seeing?)

No, the baby cauliflower isn't part of the Sept. and Oct. harvest tally - it's for this month or the next, but I am soooo happy to see it!

The fall veggies are trickling into the kitchen - it's a slow but steady pace. We are having some of our broccoli with tonight's supper, but we're having some of the last of the pepper harvest, too.

The harvest-tally confirms that October is our big transition month, when the garden slows its production of the warm-weather veggies, and the cool weather veggies begin to appear on our plates. It always seems like such a slow change, but once autumn truly arrives, it's a wonderful thing!

Tucked away for the winter, we have plenty of dried cowpeas, dehydrated peppers, tomatoes, and blueberries, and smaller amounts of dehydrated squash and okra; there's a basket of sweet potatoes on the floor in the kitchen; we have some canned green beans (put up before the house was smashed by the tree); a batch of blackberry jam; and a big basket of home-canned goodies given to us by a very good friend as a house-warming gift when we were able to move back in. The near-future of our meals is looking very local!

Our last couple of months of meals have had a significant, from-our-yard element, too. Here is what we brought in from the yard in the last two months. As usual, the weights are recorded in kilograms:
September
Tomatoes, ripe
6
Peppers
4.95
Southern peas
1.75
Eggplants
0.75
Bush beans, green
2.05
radishes
0.2
Oct.
Tomatoes, ripe
1.5
Bush beans, green
0.85
radishes
0.3
Southern peas
0.4
Peppers
3.9
Potatoes, sweet
9.8
Bok Choy
0.7
Lettuce
0.5
Broccoli
0.4


Sept. total 15.7 kg = 39 pounds and 9.8 oz
Oct. total 18.35 kg = 40 pounds and 7.2 oz
Running total: Jan. through Oct. = 393 pounds, 2 ounces 

We are closing in on 400 pounds of food, which is pretty good for a yard that doesn't get full sun and considering the complications this summer brought to the life of the main gardener.
Hope everyone else's gardens are doing well!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Sustainable Garden

In a recent survey, the state’s Master Gardeners indicated that they’d like to know more about sustainable gardening.  One big hurdle will be figuring out exactly what “sustainable gardening” means!

Some gardeners are going to want to see a focus on ecological sustainability – such that the garden’s soil develops a healthy mix of microbial and other life, and as many pests as possible are “handled” by resident populations of beneficial organisms. Such a garden might rely a lot on things like cover crops, local composts, and crop rotation and use very little in the way of purchased inputs, while staying as far away from any non-renewable resources as possible.

However, there will also be a group that prefers to emphasize that a sustainable garden is one that the gardener can most easily create and maintain. The selected inputs are reasonably priced, the planning and physical workload are easily manageable, but the garden still produces plenty of the desired foods. Non-renewable inputs are used prudently, but they definitely have a place in this version.

And then there's probably a group that will not consider a garden to be sustainable if it can't be maintained productively through a serious hard time (think "zombie apocolypse"). This group might (I don't know for sure) use a mix of several strategies, ranging from keeping a stash of stored inorganic nutrients and other inputs for just-in-case, to the setting up of composting toilets as a source of nutrients and organic matter.

All will agree, I think, that a sustainable garden should be sized so that the gardener isn’t overwhelmed by the work of maintaining it. After all, if the garden is over-run with weeds, or if it becomes like a deep dark pit into which money and time disappear, the gardener may opt to “throw in the trowel” and return the space to something like turf. The overly-consumptive garden isn’t at all sustainable.

A garden also can't continue if its soils become depleted of nutrients.The most easily obtained (for urban and suburban gardeners, anyway) and inexpensive inputs tend to be inorganic fertilizers, like a bag of 10-10-10. Over time, though, if not enough is done to improve - or even just maintain - soil health, yields will drop. Our experience at the Plant-A-Row-For-the-Hungry garden shows that fairly well.

In the first several years we mulched with newspaper and fallen leaves (saved over the winter for use in spring and summer), and we followed fertilizer recommendations that came with our soil test results. Over those several years, yields dropped a little very year. Then, we switched to organic sources of nutrients and grew a winter cover crop of Austrian Winter peas. After just one winter, yields went back up to almost as high as those in the very first year of the garden. Talk about a turnaround!

The original plan/method turned out to be not sustainable in terms of the garden's continuing productivity - but the 50 pound bag of kelp meal wasn't cheap, and we had to travel a ways to find the giant bag of cover-crop peas for our 4,000 sq. ft. garden. If we had had a tighter budget, the garden might have suffered for another year.

It's a pretty safe bet that there will be huge areas of disagreement in what a sustainable garden would look like - or whether it's even possible to create one - and in the end, creating a garden that is acceptably sustainable is probably going to require a bit of a balancing act. It probably also will look different for different gardeners.

In the near term, my mostly-organic, home vegetable garden is an OK size. I can manage its ~350 sq. ft. of various beds mostly on my own, and it provides a decent amount of food for my family.

Some years, I am less good about managing it in a way that requires fewer inputs, because the environmentally sustainable way, the way that builds soil organic matter and encourages a diverse and abundant liveliness within the soil, usually requires some planning. It requires cover crops, as much compost as my yard can deliver, and good crop rotations;  it requires planning for pollinators and habitat for beneficial insects; it requires enough forethought to get the nutrients into the soil soon enough that the microbial life can make it available to transplants, and more.

Even in my best, most "on" years, when all the planning happens and when I actually manage to follow through, I'm not sure the whole enterprise is completely sustainable - but the food is good, being out-of-doors is great, and for me, anyway, it's close enough.

Friday, October 26, 2012

State of the Garden Report

It's been a great year for peppers in my yard, but the season is just about at its close.

We'll be pulling up the pepper plants (see pathetic plants in photo below) this weekend, because the cool nights have taken their toll on the heat-loving plants. It won't help that the forecast includes a dip down into the mid-thirties within the next few days.

Other plants due for removal this weekend include the last of the eggplants.



If all goes well, I'll get the garlic planted - it's time - but it's probably better if I don't absolutely count on getting that done.

At this point, most of my cool-weather crops are looking very promising. The broccoli will be big enough to harvest soon!



The extra-cold weather heading my way can only help.  There are enough of these in the garden this year to make several good meals-worth of the central heads.

If this winter is anything like last winter and we don't get any hard freezes (with temperatures down into the teens or below), we could get more meals from the little side-shoots, too.


Joe, though, is looking forward to the cabbage harvest. He LOVES sauerkraut, and last year he wasn't able to make enough from the cabbage that was available.

This year, we have a dozen of our own plants to add to any harvested from the little farm where we volunteer on the weekends.

He will have to wait a few more weeks for the cabbage, but the first heads should be ready by Thanksgiving. At our house, the best batches of sauerkraut are the ones that are made in cooler weather. I don't know if that is because the whole process procedes at a slower pace or if it's because the mix of bacteria/fungi in the air is different.

Regardless, we've figured out that he needs to make his sauerkraut in fall, rather than in spring, even though we can grow cabbages that mature in April.

We've been eating some of the lettuces and spinach (not pictured), too. I've fed some of the tiny lettuces - that were pulled to thin the bed - to my bunnies, but I'm planning for most of the lettuce to feed the humans in the house.

This year's carrot patch is looking like it could be the best I've ever planted in this yard. If I am really lucky, next year when it's time to plant the fall carrots I'll be able to decipher my notes about what I did with the soil to make this happen. It's always great to be able to replicate a success.

Weather reports are calling for some fairly stunning storms (can I use the plural form, when what's really supposed to happen is a collision/combination of two?) north and east of here. I'm hoping for the best possible outcome for everyone in the affected areas!

May your hatches be safely battened down, your larders and water-stores sufficient to meet the need, and everyone make it through un-injured.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bok Choy! (or, Pak Choi!)

Regardless of how we're spelling it, this cool weather veggie is great in stir fries, and we had one of these beautiful plants in our stir fry last night.

Some of the other cool weather crops are getting close to harvest size, too. I know that plenty of gardeners would already have harvested some lettuces from my lettuce plants by now, and also some of the spinach, but I like for the leaves to be larger and sturdier.

The broccoli is starting to make tiny heads, too. If I had noticed their progress earlier - before dusk - I would have taken a photo to add to the post.

After the (late) tour to check on how the garden was doing and picking peppers for tonight's (late) supper, I planted some veggies that I had bought for a demonstration for work. There was one kale (Winterbor hybrid), one cilantro, and nine or so Red Sails lettuces, all of which I planted by streetlamp-light. There are some tiny new broccoli plants still to go, and I'm hoping to get those planted after work tomorrow.

Hope everyone else's gardens are doing well!



Sunday, October 14, 2012

A "Good Year" for Chipmunks

If I had been purposely growing chipmunks this year, I'm pretty sure I could say that I had a bumper crop. I am not alone in this. At least part of the problem was the drought. Chipmunks (and squirrels in some people's yards) all figured out that the gardens were watered and full of moisture-laden produce, which they proceeded to munch on.

The situation could have been worse. In some yards, chipmunks (and/or other pestiferous mammals) took one or two bites out of nearly every tomato produced. At least my tomatoes were spared!  Here in my yard, it turns out that the chipmunks pretty much stuck with the sweet potatoes.


Today was fairly warm, and we've been without rain for several days - all good for harvesting sweet potatoes -  so I dug the sweets up this afternoon. Every plant had at least one big potato with significant munching damage.

It's hard to complain about the approximately 22 pounds of good sweets that I was able to put into the basket to bring in, but  I couldn't help thinking (somewhat wistfully) of one really spectacular year for sweets, years ago, when the plants averaged something like 6 pounds each of total production.

Is it like that for everyone? Do we all look back, with a little regret or longing, thinking about that one really great harvest year, even though the current harvest is absolutely fine? Twenty-two pounds of sweet potatoes will take us pretty far into the winter; it seems like "sour grapes" to complain, but there was that one year...

The sweets I brought in still need to be set up for curing. That typically involves either our small space heater or a small lamp with an incandescent bulb (they get nice and toasty), but I'm not sure yet how to set that up in the new arrangement of my house. Everything is just a little bit different.

One way or another, it will get done, because curing the sweets in a warm place does amazing things to the flavor, but the exact set-up is yet-to-be-determined.

Here's hoping that everyone else had a great year for sweet potatoes and a less-than-good-year for chipmunks!


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Not Quite Summer, Not Quite Fall

Even though the summer harvest season is nearing its conclusion, there's still a bit more out in the garden to bring in. Last night and tonight we have temperatures down into the forties (degrees F), which peppers and eggplants in particular don't appreciate. Their leaves all looked a little droopy this morning, so I am guessing that it's nearly time to pull those plants from the garden.

My eggplants haven't done as well this year as last, but the peppers have been performing like champs in more gardens than just mine. Gardeners all over the county are just about bursting with joy over the peppers. I am pretty sure I'm not alone in having many bags of chopped peppers in the freezer and many jars of dehydrated pepper-bits on the pantry shelves to make sure we're well-seasoned all winter long.

This massive storage of peppers is in addition to the numerous peppers that we have eaten grilled, stuffed with cheese, just "on the side" of a plate of salad, Mexican-style beans & rice, and (on a very good day) mole' chicken.

My little family is enjoying its late-summer fling with green beans, too. The little patch that I planted in August, that got tromped through by the workmen who were paying more attention to our house repairs than where they were walking (hard to complain about that ...), has provided quite a few meals-worth of beans. They've been delicious!

The fall-planted garden will be providing more food for us soon. I'm hoping for a little more seasonal-overlap than just radishes, but we'll see how it goes. Hope everyone else's gardens are doing well!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Plant Health Management

I went to a workshop about organic farming/gardening down at Fort Valley State University this past week. Most of the speakers addressed the administrative end of things - how to get a farm certified as being organic, who needs to get certified, who qualifies for financial help and where to get that help. That was all great information, but that wasn't all we heard about.

Dr. Elizabeth Little, a plant pathologist with UGA, was also there, and her talk was very different. She said some things I've been trying to tell people for years, but she said it all better and with the authority of a PhD who has been doing actual, official research into the topic. The gist of it was this:
There are no organic products that REALLY work for disease management; switching to organic farming or gardening isn't about simple substitutions of one chemical for another. Essentially, in organic operations, it's all about prevention.

The organic farmer/gardener takes a systems approach to plant health - based on fertility, plant selection, crop rotation, sanitation, and site selection. The organic system also relies a lot on biological interference with disease; by promoting a good ecological system in the soil (a wide range of fungi, bacteria, and creepy-crawlies), the organic gardener/farmer heads off many potential problems.

Any problems that crop up typically indicate an underlying health issue.
She emphasized that healthy plants resist disease, and that we can promote good root growth and beneficial microflora (and by doing so improve plant health) through providing compost and other organic amendments, by mulching, by reducing the amount of tillage, and by using cover crops.

Encouraging predator insects, parasitoids, and microbes as allies was also brought up. Relying on an ecological approach of planting flowers that are attractive to these beneficial organisms was part of the biological approach of disease prevention. Some diseases are in the wind and can't really be intercepted or diverted, but others are spread through the feeding of insects, kind of like the way mosquitoes spread disease from one animal to another. The "beneficials" help by attacking the disease-spreading insects.

When I spoke with Dr. Little later in the day, when we were touring the campus farm, she emphasized the "right plant in the right place" approach to plant health in a great example: She said that she had seen lone tomato plants out in the full sun, with good mulch around them, well-fertilized and mulched, and they were completely unblemished - no signs of disease anywhere - when other tomato plants in the area were definitely ailing.

It was great that she chose Tomato as her example, because that seems to be the garden vegetable that is most affected by disease, in a way that causes the most distress to the gardener, in Georgia. Usually, when someone asks me about disease in the garden, we end up talking about tomatoes.

I left the workshop feeling extra-motivated to keep emphasizing the importance of all the little steps - using compost, paying attention to plant varieties and their disease resistance, making sure there is adequate sunlight for the plant, and using mulches and cover crops.

All in all, it was a great day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We're Back in the House!

We've been allowed (after almost two and a half months!) to move back into the house. We've been living in a hotel ever since the tree smashed the house, and it is GREAT to be back home. Most of the undamaged contents of the house have been returned, and we've unpacked all the boxes that we've received so far. The stack of empties is a joy to behold! They mean we're making progress.


Getting ready for the move back, contacting power and phone companies, arranging for everything to be turned back on, meeting with assorted contractors and workers, has been very time-consuming, but totally worthwhile. I'm sorry, though, that I am so late in posting to the blog.

While we lived at the hotel, I made almost daily trips to the house, and I worked on the garden. If the work has the intended results, these plants will be giving us cabbages in five or six weeks:

Other crops are coming along, too. The lettuces are about four inches high, the carrots, planted in two waves, are fairly well established, and other brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, radishes) are looking just as I would have hoped. Of course, the weeds also are looking quite robust, so I have more work ahead. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bean Leaf Rollers - Late Summer Pests on Beans



The bean leaf rollers are late-summer pests that don't always show up in my Georgia garden, but they apparently are all over Florida, because most of the information about them is from research done there. The caterpillars grow up to become long tailed skippers - pretty little brown butterflies - which is part of the reason I'm going to let these live, as long as the damage doesn't become too extreme.

Below is one more video, this one about my favorite cowpeas. Not only are these Pigott Family Heirloom peas hilariously vigorous climbers, but they also are delicious. For the vegetarian crowd, these are great as the base for a vegetarian gravy as well as when they are prepared as just cooked beans to have with cornbread.



I enlisted one of my sons as a cameraman this morning to make these little videos for me. These are both totally unrehearsed and mostly unplanned, so they might seem a little random in spots, but Zack did a GREAT job of figuring out where to aim the camera as I spoke. It totally isn't his fault that I make weird faces when I'm talking.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tracking the Harvest: August

It's been a long, tough August at my house, but the garden has pulled through for us pretty well. The harvests haven't been spectacular, but they've been steady. The weights, as always, are recorded in kilograms:


August
Tomatoes, ripe
9.95
Peppers
5.85
Southern peas
1.25
Trombocino squash
1.4
Eggplants
0.7
Figs
0.9
Butternut squash, dwarf
1.85



The August total is 21.9 kg, which converts to 48 lb and 4.5 oz.
The 2012 running total, from Jan. through Aug., is 316 pounds, 12 ounces.
Parts of the garden, including the fig tree, were smashed when the tree fell, but I don't think the smashed parts would have added tremendously to the total. Besides the figs, we lost bush beans, parching corn, okra, and some herbs.

Transition to Fall

We're still getting peppers, tomatoes, an eggplant and trombocino squash every now and then, and cowpeas, and I am hoping that soon we will be able to add bush beans to the harvest. This is the most recently planted patch of beans - to replace the patch that was wiped out when the tree fell across the top of the house and smashed part of the garden:


The little bean patch is looking pretty promising; if all goes well, it will make a nice transition to the fall crops.

Meanwhile, the lettuces have been growing.


Other planted-from-seed crops also have grown beyond the seed-leaf (cotyledon) stage, and the transplanted veggies are all in, too. Yesterday I was able to plant the cauliflower -- the last of the fall veggies to be planted.

When the rest of the summer crops come out, some spaces will be planted with onions and garlic, and the rest will go into cover crops. Amazingly, it seems as though the fall garden is mostly on track! Here's hoping for decent weather and no more falling trees.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Forward Movement

I've been an organic gardener - doing the research and putting what I've learned into practice in my own yard - for a long time. Locating amendments and special "inputs" like seeds for cover crops on a garden-scale has been getting easier over the years, but there have always been items that had to be mail-ordered.

When the things you need suddenly are available in appropriately-sized packages in main-stream stores, that's a clue that a lot more people have become interested in the same things.

These cost way more than I would usually pay, but I couldn't resist. This is so great!:


I found these at the Home Depot in Kennesaw, when I was just checking the seed rack to see what was there. The cool season mix contains seeds for hairy vetch and ryegrass; the warm season mix has seeds for Austrian winter peas and ryegrass. (I like how they couldn't decide which was actually good for our area, so we get both!)  The packets each contain enough seed for 200 square feet of garden. With the easy-availability of these seeds, maybe more people will experiment with cover crops and find that they are a great help in the garden.

In other news - yesterday I attended a Small Scale Intensive Farming workshop, sponsored by Georgia Organics, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the USDA Risk Management Agency. Andy Pressman, of NCAT and a farmer who uses multiple small urban plots as his farmland, was the featured speaker.

The morning was filled with discussion of the business considerations of small-farming, and the afternoon was filled with technical considerations, including what tools are best for what purposes in very-small-scale farming enterprises like his. 


Pressman's planting beds are 2 x 25 feet, and most of his "paths" are just 12 inches wide. With this tight spacing, tools need to be small and maneuverable. The biggest piece of equipment he uses is a walk-behind tractor by BCS (a European company). Everything else he showed us was hand-powered.

The seeder he demonstrated is the Earthway model that I have - I used it to plant my carrots this spring. He also brought along a whole assortment of hoes and demonstrated their correct use while talking about the benefits of each one.


While there, I met lots of great people who are all working on farming. Some are brand-new farmers, some are still in the planning stages, and some are fairly experienced. All in all, it was a great day!

Here at home, the cabbages I planted last week are doing well. I'm pretty sure they're bigger than they were when I saw them on Friday - I feel a little like one of those old ladies who exclaims to a child - "My how you've grown!"


And these are the carrots, seeded a couple of weeks ago with the seeder that my family gave me for my birthday this year:


I hope everyone else's gardens and gardening-knowledge are making as much forward progress!




Monday, August 20, 2012

Four Little Squashes

When I went out to check on the garden after work today, I realized that the little butternut squashes had changed. They had become both more tan and less shiny - indicators that the squashes might actually be mature, even though it is still fairly early in the season.
They've been growing for long enough, though, so I went ahead and cut them off the vine.

The NCSU extension publication Storing Winter Squash and Pumpkins explains that, normally, winter squashes will do better in storage if they first have a curing time of one to two weeks at fairly high (>80 degrees F) temperature and similarly high humidity.

I have found that butternut squashes, like sweet potatoes, get a little sweeter after curing, too. The good news is that my garage has just about perfect conditions for curing the squashes in, so after I am done admiring them for a day or two they will be parked in the garage for a couple of weeks, before being brought back into an air-conditioned space.

They won't sit around for long, though. When I have time, I will probably go ahead and roast them and then mash them to freeze for something like pie.

Elsewhere in the garden, plants are still producing. My house is still pretty much in chaos, and I couldn't find a pretty container/basket/bowl for posing my veggies in, so the photo shows them in the bag I had carried through the yard for harvesting.

It's not a huge pile of food, but it will still make a nice addition to our meals, to the pile of frozen veggies (bagged) in the freezer, and to the dehydrated veggies in jars on the storage shelves.


The tomatoes and peppers are assorted varieties. Underneath those are some Pigott Family cowpeas. We've already harvested a full quart of those (shelled-out and fully dried) Southern peas, but there are plenty more out in the garden.

As the cool-weather crops, the lettuces, other greens, carrots and more are making their slow beginning, it's nice to have the anchor of the summer crops still producing.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

It Only Looks Like Bare Ground

This is the space where the buckwheat was turned under to make room for the carrots:


The photo is from before the carrots and winter radishes were actually planted (I'm not always good about getting up-to-date-photos for the blog). The good news is that I can see seedlings! We've had some fairly moderate temperatures - considering that it's August - and several small rains, which have helped.

What I was afraid might not help at all were the big footprints all across the bed that I discovered on Monday, the day after the seeds were planted. Newly-planted seeds are more likely to germinate if they are kept moist, and I was going out to see whether they needed to be watered. Instead, since the ground was still sufficiently damp, I set out a lot of that foldable, temporary fencing to let people know that there is something in the garden - it isn't just an empty space.

You would think I would already have learned to defend the bare-looking seedbed in advance, because the space where I planted the bush beans also got some big footprints in it within a day or two of planting. You can't see the footprints in this photo, but the seeds seem to have weathered the boot-storm. They are coming up!:


In my dreams, everyone knows better than to walk across what looks like bare ground in the garden, but my dreams are unlikely to come true anytime soon. When even the obvious edges of the garden aren't enough of a clue that there is something special about the space, I can only hope that the boots quit tromping through before the seedlings are at a more vulnerable stage.

In other yard news, the gardenia at the front corner of the house was pretty seriously damaged when the tree fell on our house. The main stems were all split, so Joe went ahead and removed it. I will probably put another gardenia there, though, because I enjoyed that one so much. This is a not-great photo of the split stems:


The azalea next to the gardenia at first seemed to be only slightly damaged in the tree accident:


When we were able to get a closer look, after the gardenia was gone, it was pretty obvious that the damage was a lot more extensive. Looking down into the shrub, there were more of those split stems. When we cut that shrub down, the remaining full-grown azalea looked weird all on its own, so we cut that one down, too, and we will be starting over on the foundation planting. It's not a good time of year to be planting most bushes, but the house isn't completely repaired yet, so we have some time. Meanwhile, it will probably be a little easier for the workmen to move equipment and materials around - they won't have to worry about the shrubbery, and they might be able to stay out of the gardens.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

What Comes of the Compost

Since we still are not 100% at home yet, we haven't had a good way to add to the compost piles that usually collect our kitchen trimmings, and we still seem to be generating plenty of odd little brown spots and stem ends. The good parts are going into either the crockpot (on loan from a co-worker - Thank you, Louise!) or the dehydrator.


Our compost is still collecting little bits of yard trimmings/weeds, but not nearly as much as usual, and the contents of our bunnies' litter boxes aren't going there either, because our bunnies are still with a friend. Right now, instead of having one compost pile that's growing while the other, more finished pile gets moved out to the garden, we have two dwindling piles. By the end of this weekend, there won't be any compost left in the backyard - just a little stack of wilting weeds.

We have become so accustomed to always adding to the compost piles that it seems a little weird, and very wasteful, to run veggie trimmings down the disposal at the hotel where we currently are being housed (not for much longer!).

I know, though, that there are plenty of people for whom saving organic material for the compost pile is a foreign concept. I forget sometimes that other people's lives aren't centered around gardening and all the daily behaviors that make gardening work.

However, it is great to hear about other people who not only are doing similar things but also working to educate still more people about using leftover/waste material in the garden. Not long ago at work I heard from a guy who is educating others about the usefulness of coffee grounds in gardening. He has put together an informational webpage and a little project to collect, dry, and distribute coffee grounds for use in gardens. It's a local Greenbean Project. I am hoping that his project becomes wildly successful.

A great thing about coffee grounds, especially as the season for collecting fallen leaves is almost here, is that coffee grounds are a good nitrogen source, which helps balance out the high carbon content of the dried leaves that we will all be dumping into our compost piles.

Meanwhile, the multiple seasons' worth of compost that have been added to my vegetable garden have been working their magic on the red clay, helping the soil produce good food for us, even though I haven't been out there tending to the watering and weeds every day like I would normally be doing.

The trombocino squash are beginning to produce for us:


The dwarf butternut has made several squashes, too. In a comic-twist, the squash fruits themselves are "dwarf," but the vines have sprawled ten-to-twelve feet. I was kind of expecting a reverse version of that outcome, where the vines were more dwarfed and the fruits more normal, but I am not exactly surprised by the reality. It's the kind of thing that sometimes happens with seeds and plants.


The buckwheat that had been acting as a place-holder for the last few weeks has already flowered, and I've turned that cover-crop under to get the area ready for the carrots. If all goes well, those seeds will be in the ground tomorrow.

Tomato plants are still producing, and the remaining plants look surprisingly healthy for this late in the season. These are Akers Plum tomatoes:


These are Wuhib, another plum/paste tomato:


We have a week of cooler weather coming up, and it will be a good time to plant some of the cooler weather crops. Germination will be a lot more successful than it would have been a week or so ago - the highs are forecast to be below 90 degrees F for the next few days. It won't hurt to have dug in the last of the compost.


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