Sunday, February 26, 2017

Georgia Organics Conference, Part 2

Really, the very best parts of attending something like the Georgia Organics conference are meeting new people and hearing those peoples' thoughts about food and our food system. This is probably an example of what is called "confirmation bias," where we seek out and bend information in ways that support our own world view, but I did leave the conference with an upbeat feeling about local food production in Georgia.
Cover of our conference schedule. It is actually green. PHOTO/amygwh

After my friend Electa and I arrived on Saturday morning, we signed in, then went through the breakfast line and looked for a place at a table.

We wound our way through the big breakfast area to a table that had only one woman and her young son seated there. Over breakfast we learned that they both had completed a growers bootcamp put on by Habesha Atlanta (but held in Augusta), and they were starting their own small food-growing operation.

While we ate and talked, more people who had participated in the same bootcamp, and who had begun working to grow some good food, joined us. This was a GREAT way to start the conference!

Throughout the day, we met and spoke with other people who had established small (1/2 acre or less) orchards and veggie farms and small chicken production operations in urban and suburban areas throughout Georgia.

Then one speaker (could have been GA's Ag commissioner Gary Black; my notes are sketchy here), in talking about Georgia's food system, listed big farms, medium farms, small farms, and home gardens as all contributing to our food system.

Home gardens! It was so great to hear these recognized as an important element of food production in the state.

My dream, of course, is that everyone finds a way to grow at least a little food. Our individual production may be small, but it all adds together.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Georgia Organics Conference, Part 1

Yesterday, early in the morning, I drove across Atlanta with my friend Electa to the Georgia Organics Conference, which was being held at a convention center near the airport. We had a fun day, met people who grow and love good food, and learned lots.
Cover of the Conference Schedule. In real life, it is green.

Eight different topics were presented in each time slot during the day, and they pretty much all looked interesting and potentially useful. However, picking the topic to see for our first session easy, because my friend Terri Carter was presenting about Food History in the South.

I was especially interested in the maps of trade routes she showed us and in the role of failing economies in influencing which foods were adopted into the "mainstream" diet. 

At other presentations during the day, I wrote down ideas/thoughts that could help home gardeners. This is a not-so-short list:
  • Sustainability starts with the seed. Choose varieties that are disease resistant and that don't need pesticides.
  • In a small farm or garden, "diversification hedges your bets." Grow more than one variety of each vegetable.
  • In a small space, 'Georgia Rattlesnake' watermelon, which produces Very Large Fruits, might not be the best choice, even though its flavor is spectacular. The plant covers a lot of ground to make those enormous fruits.'Ice Box' and 'Moon and Stars' have a much lower brix reading than 'Georgia Rattlesnake'. You might want to try different smaller varieties than those two.
  • Look for open pollinated varieties when you can, since these tend to have a diverse genetic background. Even in bad years, some of these may survive and produce food.
  • Trellising saves a lot of space and can reduce fungal diseases on leaves and fruits by getting them up off the ground.
  • In trials looking at yields of tomatoes on different trellising systems, cages gave the most pounds of tomatoes per plant. 
  • For blackberries, our farmer-presenter got higher yields on North-South trellis rows than on East-West trellis rows.
  • The same guy shears off the tops of his tomato plants about a foot above his trellis system (he uses a fence system, of wire fencing on T-posts, for his tomatoes).
  • There are no effective sprays to stop diseases in organic systems. Serenade and Sonata sprays may slow down the mildews, but getting good coverage of the leaves is not easy, and these products need to be re-applied every 7-10 days.
  • Neem is not helpful for squash bugs.
  • Avoid composting plants that have root diseases, but composting plants that have leaf diseases is okay. 
More thoughts prompted by the conference will be in my next post. Meanwhile, I have completely ignored my own good advice and planted out some lettuce seeds. The weather is seductively warm, and I am ready for spring!





 


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Aphids on the Arugula?

One of my friends brought some arugula leaves to the office last week, to show me the many hundreds of aphids that were on them. The arugula is growing at a community garden that she had visited, and she had permission from the gardener to pick a few leaves.
Aphids on arugula from local community garden. PHOTO/Amygwh

We slid the leaves under the microscope and could see that, while a whole lot of the aphids are alive and active (the green ones in the picture), some had been "parasitized" by a wasp.

That means that a little wasp had laid an egg inside the aphid, and the egg was developing into a new wasp.

The aphids that have a baby wasp inside are the puffed-up golden ones in the picture.

When each wasp-baby is mature, it will bust out of the aphid body, leaving behind an empty aphid shell.

Are images from "The Alien" movie flashing through your mind yet? Sometimes, real life is just as weird as science-fiction movies. This is part of what keeps gardening so engaging.

In organic gardening, knowing that there are predators and parasitic wasps around, waiting to take care of a pest problem, provides an odd kind of comfort. Unfortunately, though, even if a swarm of ladybugs (surprisingly effective predators on aphids) moves in to help the wasps clear up the aphid problem, this arugula is going to need a lot of washing before it is added to a salad.

My venerable copy of Rodale's "The Organic Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control" (my copy is from 1996) offers some help for aphid infestations. The first suggestion is to wait for the predators to take care of the problem. Usually, in my garden, "waiting" is enough.

This is an odd year weatherwise, though, so it looks as though more active steps will be needed in some gardens. The next suggestion is to blast the little plants with strong spray from a hose to knock the aphids off. The next after that is to try an insecticidal soap spray. In a dire emergency, try a veg-garden-pest spray that contains neem.

Of course, the very first thing to have done, if anyone could have foreseen the aphid disaster looming from back in the fall, would have been to cover the little crop with a spun rowcover to keep the aphids out completely.

Hoping that other gardens are relatively aphid-free!


Monday, February 6, 2017

Now You See Them, Now You Don't: Perennials in the Garden

Do you remember when you first figured out that some plants look great for only part of the year before looking as though they had died, but then they popped back up the very next year looking like nothing unusual had happened?
Daffodils in my yard.   PHOTO/Amygwh

When I see daffodils, which do exactly that magic act, I remember talking (maybe 15 years ago) with a young guy about his new home and its great yard. He was very concerned that he had already killed some of his beautiful flowers.

We eventually figured out that his flowers were daffodils.  The guy just had not yet learned that some flowers (like daffodils) come up early, bloom for a couple of weeks, and then begin to die back for the year.

It was a moment of revelation! I do not remember the exact moment when I learned about the "hibernation stage" of bulbs and the plants known as "herbaceous perennials", but I certainly remember when that guy learned. We talked some more about the strange ways of plants, and he was relieved to know that he had not killed his beautiful flowers.

Plenty of other flowers follow a similar life pattern. All of the spring bulbs (tulip, hyacinth, crocus, for example), Bee Balm, Anise Hyssop, Phlox, Bleeding Hearts, Trout Lily, Blood Root, and many more beautiful flowering plants do the same disappearing act for at least part of the year.

However, not many of our commonly grown food plants are herbaceous perennials, disappearing for awhile before returning. Asparagus is one. Horseradish is another. Fennel does that same magic act, too. A few weeks ago, all you could see of my fennel plants was some bare, brown sticks poking out of the ground. Right now, in the garden, the fennel is starting to show some dense feathery growth around the base of those sticks. They are reborn! Magic.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...