Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Seed Saving -- Heirloom Bush Beans

After eating beans for a few weeks from my early August planting of Aunt Joanie beans, I have let the rest of the bean pods mature on the plants. The ripe (old, pale, tough) pods are not good to eat, but the beans are good to save for planting next year.
Mature bean pods for seed-saving. PHOTO/Amygwh

Mature seeds set aside for drying. PHOTO/Amygwh

Beans for seed-saving need to be fully developed, which means they are at the stage when you might use them as dry beans in the kitchen. 

In drier climates, mature bean pods can be left on the plants until they are "rattle dry". The pods will be brown and brittle and easy to shell out.

Here in the Southeastern US, we are not having the kind of dry weather that allows for bean pods to dry to brittleness. Instead, we are having the kind of humidity and rain that encourages mildews and fungi.

That means I am shelling out leathery pods, not brittle ones, and the beans still are plump with moisture.

Also, some of the pods are mildewed.

When I shell out the mildewed pods and find  unblemished bean seeds, then those beans can be saved for seeds. I don't save seeds that look infected or damaged, because I don't want to have my whole next crop be ruined by a fungus.

I also don't save seeds from pods that contain fewer than three seeds inside. I don't want to encourage plants that produce puny bean pods, and I am pretty sure that if I saved seeds from a lot of short pods, soon enough my entire crop would mostly have short pods.

Diseased seeds will not be saved. See the spots? PHOTO/Amygwh
Before storing the bean seeds for planting in another season, they need to be very dry. I leave the seed beans out on the counter to dry for several days (or more) until they are so dry that one hit by a hammer shatters instead of smashes.

As they dry, these beans will get smaller, and they also will turn to a gentle tan color. They really are beautiful beans!

When the seed-beans are very dry, I will make an envelope for them, label with the season they were grown in (Joanie Beans, Aug-Oct 2017), then store them in one of my airtight containers in the fridge. Next year, or even five or six or more years from now, these seeds will still be good for planting.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Baker Creek Relief for Hurricane Damaged Gardens

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has set up two ways to help people whose lives have been up-ended by the recent hurricanes. This is the information that came to my email today:
"Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company may be located on a small farm near a small town in rural Missouri, but we are neither uninformed nor complacent about the devastation caused by the recent hurricanes in other parts of the world.  Our hearts go out to those who have lost everything except their lives, and our hearts go out to the families of those who actually did lose their lives.

We want to do more and we want you to help us do more.  Many of these people need IMMEDIATE assistance of food, water, and medicine.  It takes MONEY to get those things to them.  In an effort to get that immediate aid to those who need it, Baker Creek is running a special for an entire week in which we will donate 100% of the seed sales to World Help, who will distribute supplies to Puerto Rico and other areas damaged by these horrific hurricanes.  All sales proceeds from all orders placed today, September 29, through next Friday, October 6, will be donated to World Help to help them move in food, water, medicine, and other needed supplies.   

We also are donating home garden restart kits to any individual or family who has lost their gardens to these horrific storms.  If you or someone you know has lost a garden in the hurricane and could use a start up seed kit, please send your story and contact information to seeds@rareseeds.com and to the attention of “donation” so that we can send you a starter kit."

I keep a close watch on hurricanes. I have a son in south Georgia, a niece and her family in Florida, a sister and her family in Louisiana, and two brothers and their families south of Houston, TX.  The brothers were part of the mandatory evacuations, but my people all made it through the recent storms without serious mishaps.

As we all know, and the Gettle family of Baker Creek Seeds is also aware, lots of people were less fortunate. If you need seeds and are able to purchase some through Baker Creek in the coming week, 100% of the proceeds will go toward hurricane relief efforts.

If you know people whose gardens may have been damaged or destroyed in this year's hurricanes, or whose stored seeds have likely been damaged or destroyed by heat or water, please tell them about this very kind offer from Baker Creek.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bush Beans - A Quick Crop

I planted a little patch (about 2 x 3 feet) of heirloom Aunt Joanie Beans in the first week of August, and today I harvested the first beans from that patch. That puts the days-to-maturity (or days-to-harvest) at about 50 days for this variety of beans. There are not many vegetable crops that can be brought to the kitchen so quickly!
First harvest of Joanie Beans from an early August planting.

This first day's harvest is not enormous, I know, but after I washed and snapped the beans you can see in the picture, they measured a little more than a cup and a half. That is enough for two people to enjoy at suppertime.

If there were more of us here to split the harvest with, I would tuck these into the fridge and keep adding more each day until there were enough saved up.

The little plants have many more beans and flowers on them, at various stages of development, so more beans are definitely on the way! By tomorrow, an amount of beans similar to what I brought in today should be ready to pick.

The first frost for my yard does not usually arrive until the beginning of November, so we will be able to harvest beans from this patch for several weeks.

What are you harvesting this week?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pollinator Symposium, September 23

Most gardeners have a pretty good idea of how much their gardening success depends on insect-visitors to the garden that pollinate our garden crops. Without those pollinators, we would have less good food to eat!
Monarch Butterfly laying eggs on Swamp Milkweed. PHOTO/Amygwh

Learning more about the many kinds of pollinators, how to attract them, and how to protect them, can help us all keep that good food coming into the kitchen.

An upcoming Pollinator Symposium, set for September 23 at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA, will provide an opportunity for us to learn more. I am on the Monarchs Across Georgia committee that is organizing the symposium, so I will be there, of course.

Even though this will not be a veggie-focused event, I am looking forward to learning more and figuring out how to apply the information in my own yard.

Speakers include Sonia Altizer, from UGA, on Monarch Butterflies; Nancy Lee Adamson, from the Xerces Society and USDA, on native bees; Kim Bailey, from Milkweed Meadows Farm, on hummingbirds; and Keren Giovengo, UGA Marine Extension, on gardening for pollinators.

After the talks, there are additional activities for participants to engage in. Options include butterfly walks on the grounds of the Monastery, led by Phil Delestrez of Georgia Parks and by Father Francis Michael Stiteler of the Monastery; a nature walk led by Robby Astrove, Park Ranger at Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve; Monarch butterfly tagging with Monarch Watch; and learning to participate in a citizen science project with Project Monarch Health.

Registration is $75 (a lot, I know), and the registration deadline is September 16. The Monastery conference center is not huge, so space is limited. If you are interested in attending, registering soon, through the Monarchs Across Georgia Events page online, would be a good idea.

The registration fee includes a box lunch and one-year of membership to the Environmental Education Alliance.

The Monastery will have milkweed and other plants-for-pollinators for sale at its Abbey Garden Store.

I am looking forward to spending the day learning from experts and hanging out with gardeners and others (foodies, maybe?) who want to do more to support our pollination helpers!

See you there?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Starting Again in August

New little patch of Joanie Beans, for a late crop. PHOTO/Amygwh
My little patch of the heirloom Joanie Beans, planted a couple of weeks ago, has come up. If all goes well, the plants should start providing beans for our meals before the end of September.

It is very strange to have spent so long away from the garden and to not have summer crops coming in from the yard. We are visiting the local farmers market for many of our veggies instead, and that is a very good substitute, but I do like to grow some our our own food.

In the good-news category, my friend Cheryl has been helping a local farmer, Lynn, at her weekend market booth, for several years, and she gets to take home a box of leftover veggies after the market closes on Sunday.

This past Sunday, my friend shared some of those veggies with us, so my dehydrator is full of chopped peppers and sliced tomatoes. Thank you Friend Cheryl and Farmer Lynn!

Caterpillar of a Monarch Butterfly on swamp milkweed. PHOTO/Amygwh
To make sure that at least some of my veggies this fall come from the yard, I already have started a batch of seeds in a tray. I will be starting more this weekend, since seedlings are often eaten by pests, burned up in the hot sun, or pounded to smithereens in summer storms, which makes growing some extra a good idea, but I am happy to have made the start.

In the first tray, there are a few each of kale, winter radishes, mini bok choy, beets, and collards, and a short row of green bunching onions. The next tray will have more of the above, plus lettuces. I won't start the spinach until in September, because it is so finicky about hot weather.

More good news - my milkweed is doing exactly what I hoped it would do: host some monarch butterfly caterpillars. Of course, there are also a bunch of weird orange aphids and milkweed bugs, but the caterpillars were the goal, and they are there.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ready to Plant a Fall Garden?

It may be hard to believe but, within the next couple of weeks, seeds for your fall crops can start going into the garden.

If you are like me, you may actually want to start some seeds in a flat or in pots, to transplant into the garden later, but those need to be started soon. My earliest-to-plant seeds (between now and August 20) are beets and winter radishes. Before the end of August, though, I like to have seeds for other crops started, too: carrots, kale, collards, and Swiss chard are in that group. Lettuces and spinach, the least heat-tolerant of the cool-season veggies (in my garden, at least) get planted in September. Regular salad radish seeds can go in then, too, mixed in among the lettuces and spinach.

Of those crops listed above, the only ones that are hard to move out of a flat or pot and into the garden as seedlings are carrots. Those do best for me if I put the seeds straight into the garden. Transplanting them as seedlings, started in a flat, results in such oddly bent and twisted carrots that they are hard clean and cut up without too much waste. Of course, you may be more skillful at transplanting the carrot babies than me, but I expect that many people will have an experience like mine.

If you had planned to start your own broccoli and cabbages from seed, in flats or pots, getting them started now is almost too late. If you have chosen short time-to-maturity varieties, though, starting TODAY may be fine. Otherwise, for a small garden, buying little plants of those crops at a garden center might be a good plan. If you are looking for cauliflower transplants, but don't see them at the garden centers in August, just be patient. They are more finicky about heat than cabbages and broccoli and are not usually in stores until sometime in September.

Since I missed out on summer crops this year -- my own fault for going on a crazy adventure! - I also have just put in a little patch of bush beans. I didn't buy any seeds this year, which has seemed very strange, but I have plenty of heirloom Joanie-beans saved from previous years' plants for both this year and the next.

Yesterday while running errands with my younger son (visiting from Statesboro), I stopped by TruPrep, which carries Baker Creek seeds, and I saw that it still has a decent selection in stock.  Not all stores/garden centers still have seeds available. If you need seeds for cool-season crops, it might be a good idea to call ahead before driving across town to shop.

Hope that all is going well in your gardens!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Small Home Gardens I've Seen Recently

I have been traveling around Italy this past month, and in spite of all the great museums, artwork, and historic structures that are pretty much everywhere I look, the little gardening efforts of regular folks are what draws my attention the most.
Looking WAY down on a small veggie garden in Chianciano.
When we have been zooming along in buses, I see a lot of larger gardens that are absolutely amazing, but I have not had a good way to take pictures. In smaller towns, though, especially in non-tourist areas, little food gardens are fairly easy to spot.

Hilltop towns like Chianciano are steep-sided, so I have had to lean out over walls to take pictures of the gardens (Joe makes sure that I am leaning safely!).  They almost all include a few grape vines and an olive tree or two!

Other residents don't have any bare ground for growing anything. One way they make up for that lack is by hanging planters on the walls and then filling them with flowers and herbs. I've seen a few hanging containers with strawberries trailing out of them.

Another hilltop town called Sinalunga has a suburban area on flatter ground outside the walls of the city, and Joe & I saw MANY little food gardens there. It was interesting to see that even small gardens here are planted in rows, while many small gardens in Georgia are planted in blocks, using intensive spacing.

I do not yet know whether the large number of gardens represents tradition or if it reflects on the local tax structure. One Italian guy we met, who had lived in Louisiana for many years, said that taxes here are nearly 60%. Even though that high taxation covers social programs like healthcare, that tax rate could encourage food-growing, since food you grow is not taxed. Every vegetable and bit of olive oil and wine that is produced at home could be seen as un-taxable income. That particular motivation is referred to by some gardeners I've known as "sticking it to the man".

Regardless of the reasons for their existence, all those little food gardens make me smile. Hope that all the gardens back home are doing well, in spite of the super-abundant rainfall of the past several weeks!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Summertime Adventure

Anyone who has been reading this blog for very long may have been wondering when I would get around to telling what I've planted in my garden this year. Usually, I spend most of January and February all in a tizzy over seed catalogs, trying to decide what new crops will go into the garden in spring.

This year, I tried not to look too closely at the seed catalogs that arrived in my mailbox, because I knew that I would be away from home for much of the summer. Reading them could have caused a bit of mental conflict!

My food-garden right now has a lot of herbs in it, the big strawberry patch, garlic and shallots planted in early winter, a few lettuces (unless a neighbor has eaten them)
Plenty of strawberries in the yard this year!

View from where I am writing today.

Container gardens: Not many veggies, mostly herbs and flowers.

Wonderful place not far outside of town!
and flowers for the local pollinators. There are no summer crops in the garden because I am in Italy!

I left an assortment of college students in charge of the house and the lawn-mowing, and the only plants they are tending are two houseplants and the big container/planter by the front door.

When I get home, I can start thinking about the fall garden (and a whole lot of weeding, I expect). It has been weird, though, to not plant any vegetables. I have grown vegetables in my yard in NW Georgia every summer since 1991.

I am looking forward, while I am in Italy, to learning more about gardening here. On a walk outside the city walls this weekend I found a large garden center, and even though my Italian language skills are sketchy and the English language skills of the people at the garden center are only a little better, we managed to communicate well enough.

The garden center features many annual and perennial flowers, but I also saw trays of vegetable transplants and pots of herbs. I will be going back again in the next few weeks to see/learn more.

Already I have seen that anyone with even as little open ground as a 5x10 foot patch is growing at least an olive tree. Larger spaces often include other fruits. I've seen quite a few cherry trees (sweet cherries, that don't do well in the humid Southeastern US), a few other fruit trees, and outside the walls of the town and in parks, there are umbrella pines that produce big pine nuts that are good to eat. It is great to find that so many people grow at least a little food!

The center of the hilltop town I am in, Montepulciano, is very paved, which accounts for the large number of container gardens, but farther down the sloped sides of the town there is more unpaved space, and some homes that have little yards. One yard that I saw on Friday includes a chicken coop, some fencing around a planting of tomatoes, a couple of olive trees, and a peach or apricot.

On another walk, I found the local biodynamic farm, Fattoria San Martino. I am hoping to make an official visit soon, complete with lunch reservation, and I will be reporting back on what I learn there.

Hope that all your gardens are doing well! If garden problems crop up, though, please feel welcome to ask about them through the comments link of this blog.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Supporting Pollinators

Without pollinators, our meals would be a lot less interesting. Fruit and vegetable options, in particular, would be much more limited, and some of those that provide flavor to almost every dinner would be gone from the table. (Unless I am the only one who cooks with carrots and onions pretty much every day?)

One way I have chosen to support pollinators, besides gardening organically and avoiding the use of even organic pesticides, is to participate in a group called Monarchs Across Georgia. Even though the group focuses on one special insect, the practices it advocates help a whole lot more pollinators than just Monarch Butterflies.

On Saturday, May 13, the group will be selling native plants that support pollinators at the Wildlife and Rain Garden in Marietta. Naturally, native milkweeds, food of Monarch caterpillars, will be featured. The sale is in conjunction with the Annual Garden Tour of the Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County. Buying tickets for the tour is not a requirement for stopping by the Wildlife and Rain Garden to buy some milkweed, but the tour is always great. For information about the tour, see the website of the Cobb Master Gardeners.

Plant sale details:

Cobb County Rain and Wildlife Garden
Saturday, May 13, 2017
10am - 5pm
Cobb County Water System's Wildlife & Rain Garden
662 S Cobb Dr, Marietta, GA 30060

Also, be sure to save the date for a screening of "Flight of the Butterflies". This film shows the annual journey of the millions of Monarch Butterflies, telling how the mystery of where these butterflies go each fall was solved. Reservations for the movie can be made through the Events page of Monarchs Across Georgia.  If you missed the chance to buy native milkweeds in May, there is another chance at this event, in the theater foyer after the showing. 

Details here:

Saturday, June 17, 2017
11am to 12:15pm
Midtown Art Cinema
931 Monroe Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30808

The movie will be shown  in celebration of National Pollinator Week. Your price of admission is a donation to the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia. Seating is limited.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Planting with Drought in Mind

When I plant my vegetable garden, I follow a modified version of what is often called Intensive Spacing. Square Foot Gardening is one example of a garden method that relies on intensive garden spacing.  It does not use farm-style rows; instead, plants are set into the garden in a grid-pattern, and they often are placed very near to each other. (Note: The Square Foot Garden book has helped a lot of new-gardeners find success in growing food, and in many ways it is pretty awesome.)

My version is modified in that the spacing I use is a bit roomier than in some of the grid-style intensive planting schemes I have seen. There is more than one reason for my spacing plants a bit farther apart than is sometimes recommended.

The intensive planting guide that I started out with, John Jeavons' How to Grow More Vegetables , suggests starting bush beans at a 6-inch spacing, and that is what I tend to use, but for big varieties like 'Provider' bush beans I make the spacing bigger.  The Square Foot Gardening book I read (early edition, so it may be changed now) suggests a shorter distance - fitting as many as 9 bean plants into a square foot of garden. My version fits 4 (or fewer) plants into one square foot of space.

The theory supporting tighter spacing is that even though there may be fewer beans per plant, the overall productivity of the square foot of space will be higher. That makes total sense.

However, when the tops grow to maturity and are making beans galore, the dense tangle of leaves and stems make the beans hard to find. For me, the convenience vs. exasperation factor is a consideration.

This tangle of growth can be a problem for more plants than just the bush beans. Following the suggested spacing for many crops in intensive planting systems can result in a mess.

The second reason for wider spacing is related to drought and the time required to water a garden. When plants are spaced more closely together, their roots cross into each others' soil-space. The roots of several plants will all be pulling nutrients and water from the same chunk of soil.

In a drought, in hot weather, a mature garden with big plants will need a lot of water. If those plants are very close together, all trying to get moisture from the same little bit of soil, they may need to be watered every day. Plants in raised bed gardens (which dry out faster than in-ground gardens) may need to be watered twice a day. Do I have time for that? No.

Steven Solomon, whose book Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, has a tip for growing food in drought conditions. The tip is to make the plant spacing even wider when rain is scarce.

If the original spacing was fairly close, and the rains have stopped indefinitely, he suggests pulling some of the plants out of the garden. The remaining plants will have less competition for water, and the gardener will need to water a little less often.

My sister in Louisiana plants her bush beans 9 inches apart. Since her area is hotter and drier than mine,  NW of Atlanta, this spacing makes sense for her garden. She doesn't have time to water every day, either.

For gardeners who need high productivity and who can get plenty of water out to the garden in a long, hot, dry spell, the closer spacing patterns will be a better choice.

For the rest of us, if our upcoming summer gets as hot and dry as the last one, and if watering the garden becomes a seemingly endless chore, you might consider pulling up a few plants to see if Steve Solomon is right.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fruit for Thought

I read today that some parts of Georgia did not acquire enough "chilling hours" over this past winter to make a good peach crop. The temperature needs to be at or below 45 degrees F to count as being cold enough to provide the kind of rest that many plants, such as peach trees, need for good productivity in spring.

Different fruits, and different varieties of fruits, have different chilling hour requirements, but if the main crop didn't get enough cold weather, we may not get our fill of those smaller, super-flavorful Georgia peaches that make such good preserves.
"Toothpick" evidence of boring ambrosia beetles. PHOTO/AmyGWh

Could be a good year for strawberries. PHOTO/AmyGWh
The after-effects of our warm winter are probably going to cause trouble for more than just the peach growers.

In the orchard of one local community garden, I've already seen a different problem. Some of the trees have become infested by ambrosia beetles.

These beetles bore into the wood of the tree, and they can carry disease-causing organisms on their bodies right into the wood! If the boring activity of the beetles doesn't kill the trees, the other bits might.

The evidence that tells an observant gardener about the presence of ambrosia beetles is the odd protrusions, like toothpicks, sticking out from the trunk of the tree. 

To be honest, before about 2015 I hadn't seen much of this pest at all, but for the past couple of springs it has been abundantly present, attacking all kinds of thin-barked trees. Hint: check your crape myrtles!

The good fruit-news in my yard is that the strawberry patch is producing great masses of flowers. If all goes well, most of the flowers will turn into delicious fruits.

The patch has been fertilized and mulched, and the supports for the bird-netting (that also keeps out the chipmunks) are in place.

When the fruits are further along, I will set that netting out, but for now, it is great to have an unimpeded view of the flowers.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Time for a Quick Crop of Radishes

Plenty of gardeners in North Georgia wait until after mid-April to begin planting vegetable crops, but anyone who is a bit impatient can plant some radish seeds now.
Radishes from last spring's gardening.   PHOTO/AmyGWh

Radishes grow best in the cooler weather of early spring, and they are ready to harvest just 4-5 weeks after they are planted. This makes radishes a great little crop to start the gardening year. Success comes so soon!

It used to be that most radish seeds in the garden centers and catalogues produced radishes that were just round and red.

Now, though, a whole range of colors and shapes are available, which makes pulling the little roots up at harvest time a great adventure. The same patch of garden that grew the pink and white (almost hidden under the pink) radishes in the picture also gave us purple, red, and yellow (!) radishes. All were delicious.

People who are Not From Around Here sometimes refer to radishes as a foolproof crop. I remember, when I first moved to Georgia, reading in more than one book/document, that "anyone can grow radishes." That statement may be true in a sense, but the red-clay soil that is the base of my garden did not make a radish crop for the first couple of years, no matter how many seeds I set into the ground.

If your garden has been thwarting your radish-dreams, do not despair. The yearly addition of composts and other amendments, and having the soil tested to find out exactly what is needed to balance the nutrients for vegetable production, will soon enough bring plenty of these little beauties to your springtime table.

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