Sunday, April 27, 2014

Urban Farming Produces a Huge Amount of Food

I was reading today a on blog that I occasionally visit, the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, that Food First had an article up that mentioned urban farming, so I clicked on over to the article "What place for urban farmers in the International Year of Family Farming?"  to read it.

Although the article focused on actual farms, rather than gardens like mine, and on the relative lack of focus on problems of urban farmers in the IYFF, it contained a quote that really shined a bright light on urban food production:

"...15 to 20 percent of the world’s food is produced through urban farming, involving an estimated 800 million people.  Producing food in cities significantly reduces energy and resources needed for packaging, storage and transportation, and can recycle sewage and organic waste."

It seems a not-unreasonable step to think that urban food gardening adds an additional non-trivial percentage of food and produces less waste and recycles more, even when taking into account the number of plastic bags involved in bringing most soil amendments home from the garden store. My experience is that home gardeners in general are great gleaners of their neighborhood yard waste that they then compost for use in the garden.

Today, I've made a small contribution to the future of the urban food total: I planted the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants that I had started earlier this year. I have more plants than space in the garden, so some will be bumped up to the next size of pot, to have on hand in case anything damages the planted-out veggies in the next few weeks.

If it hadn't started thundering and pouring down rain, I would have planted more seeds, too, but those can wait. Meanwhile out in the garden beds, the peas have begun to flower, the shallots are sending up seed-heads, and the Kennebec potatoes that I planted early also have begun to flower. The earliest-planted lettuces and the spinach are pretty much at peak flavor, and seedlings of beans, cucumbers, popcorn, and more radishes are popping up.

Right about now, when the days are getting warmer, the rain is working its magic, and the crops are promising to give us their all, is a totally wondrous moment in the garden. It amazes me that this shining instant in the farming and gardening year is such a practical time, too, in terms of the future of good food for us all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Seven Kinds of Sweet Potato Amy Likes Best

Does anyone else love the book "Harold and the Purple Crayon"? We must have read that book aloud to our kids -- along with a couple hundred more of their favorites -- about a thousand times. One of my favorite lines has always been about "the nine kinds of pie that Harold likes best." When I was setting up my little sweet potatoes to start slips for planting in May, I was reminded of the pies.

I know that seven isn't the same as nine, but it still seems like a lot. I had managed to save six half-gallon cartons for starting them in, but I had to rustle up one more long, shallow container at the last minute.

Five of Amy's sweet potato varieties, making slips for planting in late May.

Two more sweet potato varieties making slips for this summer's crop.
To be honest, I haven't even tasted all of these yet, so I don't know if they are my favorite in terms of flavor, but three were given to me by a sweet-potato-loving friend. We had met through the Extension office, when he was looking for a variety called Alabama Nugget. I told him about a place in Alabama that sells a pretty large assortment of sweet potato varieties, but mostly to small farms, so they are sold in bundles of 100.

My new friend is retired, so he just got in his truck, along with another friend, and they drove to the farm in Alabama. Since everyone involved loved sweet potatoes, it was easy to make more new friends, and the farmer and his (grown) son were very helpful.

My friend has been out to the farm in Alabama a few more times, and he has shared with me what he has learned along with some different sweet potato varieties that he is hoping will come close in flavor and texture to his favorite, but lost, Alabama Nugget.

Of course, Beauregard is one that most people know. It grows big and cooks up soft and sweet.

Purple Delight is much drier, almost like a dry Irish-type potato, and it is hardly sweet at all. It is a great addition to a mixed pan of roasted vegetables. The tubers grow almost straight down, and they are long enough that when a plant is harvested, if you get it up without breakage, it looks kind of like a purple octopus.

Porto Rican Gold is the heirloom from my friends Jack and Becky; it's the one that Becky's family grew commercially a hundred years ago in this county. The family has perpetuated the line all this time, but Jack and Becky are the last in their family to continue to grow it. I shared it with my new friend, so it would have a better chance of continuation.

The Annie Hall is paler fleshed, drier in texture than Beauregard, but with a different flavor. I like it a lot, but it is not a very productive variety. Last year I only had enough to eat two of them.

The others -- Covington, Alabama Red, and Calvert/Cape Hatteras -- are all new to me. I'm looking forward to growing them!

To start the slips, I have placed the tubers in a mixture of sand and compost that will be kept moist. There already are plenty of little sprouts showing, so I am hopeful that I will have enough to fill the garden. The sweet potatoes have one of the larger spaces in my yard's rotation this year.

Anyone looking for more detailed growing information might try the Organic Gardening article "Sweet Potato Growing Guide."

Elsewhere in the garden, other established crops are doing well. The long bed of allium family crops that were all planted last fall still looks good.

Multiplying onions, garlic, shallots.
The cilantro is making everyone happy. Joe loves it, I love it, my six pet bunnies love it!

Fall-planted cilantro is large and leafy in spring.
And of course, the lettuces are looking good and adding nice color to our meals. There had been radishes in the spaces between the lettuce plants originally, but we've eaten most of those. Luckily, I've started more here and there throughout the garden. We eat a lot of radishes. There were some thin slices on the sandwich I made for yesterday's lunch.

Lettuce!

More lettuce! And inter-cropped radishes!
Hope that everyone else's gardens are growing well!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spring Harvest (!) and Soil Temperatures for Planting

My first real harvest of spring-planted veggies:

Cilantro, Black-seeded Simpson lettuce, Purple Plum radishes  PHOTO/Amy W.

The garden hasn't yielded much since January 1 -- a last little bit of broccoli before the hard freezes, a few green onions, some carrots -- so the lettuce, cilantro, and radishes that I harvested yesterday mark a turning point in the gardening year. They also made a great contribution to "taco night"!

As the spring crops mature to harvest stage, the planting for summer crops needs to begin. North Carolina State University has published a planting chart/calendar that includes soil temperatures to help us all work out the best order in which to plant our gardens. Gardeners who also have jobs, families, and other additional responsibilities don't usually manage to get the garden planted all at once, and knowing which plants can do well in cooler soil temperatures can help gardeners decide what to plant first.

According to the chart, corn can be planted at soil temperatures as low as 50 degrees F, and so can pole beans, but squashes and tomatoes need a minimum soil temperature of 60 degrees F, peppers and cucumbers need 65 degrees F, and okra, melons, eggplants and Southern peas need a soil temperature of at least 70 degrees F to do their best.

For those of us in Cobb County who are planning to put seeds in the ground this coming weekend, taking a thermometer out to check on the soil temperature at a 4 inch depth at various points around the garden can help determine what to plant. In my yard, the soil temperature is approaching 60 degrees F, which means there is a lot I can plant now. It also means that I might need to replant those cucumber seeds that I put in the ground last week, when the soil temperature was a little lower.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Almost Time for the Spring Planting Marathon

April is the biggest planting month for home vegetable gardens around here, and getting everything done can be tough. First there's the "waiting for the soil to warm up" part, and then there's the rush to get as much as possible into the ground as soon as it is even remotely feasible.

I like to start with some bush beans because they are early producers. I usually am able to bring the first beans to the kitchen in May.

Right now, I have lettuces getting close to what I consider "harvest-able" size. I'm not a big fan of baby-sized lettuces, which means I end up waiting longer for the larger leaves. Some of the spring radishes are almost big enough to pull, but the spinach and beets are all still pretty small. In the longer-range category, most of the seed potatoes have sent up some green leaves, and the onion-family crops planted in October are all still looking good.

A couple of the garden beds in the side yard are ready for planting. I worked on those yesterday, along with hoeing and/or pulling weeds in most of the other beds. In what is probably a jumping-the-gun moment, I planted some seeds in one of those beds.

The dill and additional radishes aren't at all early, but the little patch of bush beans and short row of cucumber seeds probably are. My reasoning was that seeds are relatively inexpensive, and I have more than I need this year. If we get a late frost and the little plants don't survive, it won't be a disaster. I can just replant those little sections. We are forecast to have rain for the next couple of days, which made the planting seem even more like a good idea -- no dragging out the hose to water the seeds!

If it works, I will have a start on getting the garden planted. If we get as much rain as the weather-guys are suggesting, the ground will be too wet to do any more work in the garden for several days, but as the soil dries and warms up a bit later in the week, I will probably plant another little section with some kind of seeds.

Most of the transplants for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillas won't be planted out until I know for certain that the weather has warmed, but one tomato plant is already in the ground. All the seeds for that variety germinated, and I ended up with extra plants.

I'll let you all know how it goes...

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