Thursday, July 30, 2009

Enough for Preserving

This week the garden is getting some much-needed rain, but even with the last few weeks of dry weather, enough cucumbers and peppers are being produced for pickling and green beans for dehydrating.

I've pickled some green beans, too, and every time I'm packing green beans into jars I remember my father telling about when his own father, in the heat of an Oklahoma summer, worked in the kitchen to can what must have been hundreds of jars of green beans, back when there was no air-conditioning. At canning time in Oklahoma, the temperatures are typically in the mid-90s to low 100s. Add a pressure canner on a hot stove to that!

Even though I am lucky to be working in an air-conditioned kitchen now, I’ve put up small batches of jam and tomato sauce in un-air-conditioned kitchens in the past, so I have a small idea of what that must have been like.

Last week, when I canned pickled peppers and cucumbers, I had the big pot of boiling water for processing the jars out on the back deck, on the propane cooker. This brilliant idea of my husband’s kept the worst of the heat outside.

In spite of having made progress on the canning, it seems as though I am really far behind in putting up produce this year. We’ve put some wild blackberries in the freezer, but the birds beat us to most of the blueberries, so only a few quarts of those got dehydrated or frozen.

More green beans are in the dehydrator right now, because those little plants are really cranking out the beans. The next blast of tomatoes should be big enough that some can be either dehydrated or frozen, and that may make me feel a bit better about the state of my pantry.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

More About Beans

As the summer progresses, I consider several factors before pulling up the bush bean plants in my garden:

1. If the plants still are flowering, even if no actual beans are obvious, and the night time temperatures are still at or below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, then the bush bean plants will probably produce another crop, especially considering that the first frost date around here is about 25 October. That leaves plenty of time for maturing more beans.

2. If, though, the plants already are being visited by Mexican bean beetles or some other pest, it might be a good idea to pull up the plants so the pests won’t have an extended opportunity to build up a huge population and start roaming the neighborhood for other gardens to infest.

3. If the space is needed for fall crops, then the plants may need to come out before they are completely finished producing.

In my yard, I am still getting lots of beans. I have seen a couple with holes from the Mexican bean beetles, and I have squashed a couple of bean beetle larvae, but the problem hasn’t begun to escalate beyond those few incidents. For now, the plants are staying in the ground.

However, I will need that space for autumn greens, so when it is time to plant those (soon!), the bush beans will have to come out, but not all at once. Unless the bean beetle population begins to soar dramatically before then, I will start at one end of the bed, removing beans a few feet at a time, making space for the greens in stages.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Louisiana Short?

I chose to grow the okra variety Louisiana Short because I thought the plants would stay relatively short in my yard, somewhat like the variety Cajun Jewel. What I have, though, is regular sized plants and short, fat, okra pods!

I have never seen such fat okra pods before. Happily, they are tasty and easy to turn on the skillet when we cook them (we don’t deep-fry).

Another unexpected and not unwelcome feature of these plants is that the stems and some of the leaves have some red on them. The flowers are smaller than flowers of Cajun Jewel, but the red streaks and spots make up for the less showy flowers. One plant is almost all red and even makes red pods!

If, before choosing this year’s okra, I had read the 2008 Okra Report from the Kerr Center in Oklahoma, I would have known that Louisiana Short is not, actually, short. A helpful table, describing many varieties of okra, included in the Kerr Report includes categories for height, color, pod type (standard vs. fat!), ease of harvest, first harvest date, and attractiveness.

Surprisingly, the table doesn’t have a check for Louisiana Short under the column “Attractive Landscape Plant,” which is defined in the report as plants that have red parts. The Kerr Center got their seed from the same place I did, Sand Hill Preservation, so I don’t know why theirs isn’t listed as showing any red.

The helpful table does show that Cajun Jewel gets just 25 inches tall, which matches my experience with that variety. Louisiana Short is supposed to get just 44 inches tall, but I notice that 44 inches is also the listed height for the variety Clemson Spineless, which at the Plant a Row for the Hungry Garden where I volunteer gets well over seven feet high (some plants, we are pretty sure, get to nine feet). It will be interesting to measure my okra’s height at the end of the season!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Fall Planting Schedule

Cobb County Extension publishes a Cobb County planting guide for home vegetable gardens, and it is available for free from the County Extension Office; unfortunately, this guide is for Spring planting only.

To help keep myself on track for getting the Fall veggies planted, I’ve created my own little schedule, based on a first frost date of 25 October. Last year, I used a later date, and it was, really, too late. The 25 October date is one I have used in previous years with better success.

To create the schedule, I calculated the timing of garden activities using the frost date and counting backwards. For example, the broccoli that I am using this year claims that it requires nine weeks to reach maturity. Counting back nine weeks from 25 October takes me to the last week of August. This is the date by which the seeds need to have germinated. Sadly, the “nine weeks” generally assumes ideal conditions in terms of light, nutrients, water, temperature.

I am hoping that I manage to at least get the nutrients and water right, but my garden gets a bit less than full sun, and the temperatures will be too hot before they are just right. This means that my broccoli may need an extra couple of weeks.

Also, if I want to have broccoli over a period of time rather than all at once in a big blast, I should plant some earlier and some later.

Taking all of this into account, I planted the first broccoli seeds today. I will probably plant a little more in a couple of weeks. This is the rest of my (tentative) planting schedule, calculated in the same way, which I will follow somewhat loosely:

14 weeks before frost (week of 20 July): broccoli, cabbage, a little more chard

13 weeks before frost (week of 27 July): a few lettuces, chicory, spinach, beets

11 weeks before frost (week of 10 Aug): carrots, peas, more broccoli, beer radishes, collards

9 weeks before frost (week of 24 Aug): more lettuces, cilantro, more spinach

8 weeks before frost (first week in Sept): regular radishes, more beets

6 weeks before frost (week of 14 Sept): possibly more radishes

I will use these approximate dates for seeding directly into the ground and for starting seeds in flats or little pots, if space in the garden isn't available yet. Transplanting can slow growth down for a short interval, but the plants usually do just fine. With care, even carrots can be started in a flat and transplanted out, but they usually end up a little bent.

If everything isn’t mature on 25 October, I don’t panic. When the weather cools in the Fall, veggies last longer in the garden, just sitting, but they will continue to mature on warm days. Eventually, most veggies will be ready for eating. Last year, the carrots I had been hoping to eat on Thanksgiving weren’t ready until Christmas-time. They tasted great.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fall Planning

Around here, mid-July is the time to start working on the Fall garden. It is time to start seeds of broccoli and cabbage and some new chard. In another week or two, it will be time to start beets, peas, winter radishes, and carrots, then the lettuce and spinach, then the regular radishes.

Some of these can be seeded right into the garden. If there isn’t any space yet because all the summer veggies are still going strong, starting seeds in flats or little pots can let them grow to transplant size, to be planted out later, when other veggies have quit or slowed down.

I try to plan spaces for the fall crops, so I don’t have to lose much of the summer harvest, and I have pre-determined spaces for some of the fall planting this year. When I have collected seed from the Tom Thumb lettuces (later today?) I plan to clean up that bed for carrots. Lettuces, spinach, and some chard will go where the regular green beans are, when they come out in a few more weeks.

I already planted cowpeas in 3/4 of the zucchini space, and yesterday I planted chard in the other 1/4. The space that held spring carrots and radishes was planted with Roma type bush beans, but That Darn Rabbit ate those as they came up, so cabbages will go there. Broccoli will go in big pots that held a sadly small crop of potatoes until just a few days ago.

Based on past experience, I can safely say that the cucumbers soon will start getting holes from the cucumber pickleworms, or their leaves will get a mildew, and that will be the end of the cucumbers. That will free up some space.

Also, the first round of tomato plants included some determinate plants that will not really produce much after their initial blast. Those can come out in two or three weeks, freeing up yet more space. A short variety of peas (probably Wando) may go there.

Some people find it difficult to pull out plants that are still producing, even though that production is at a very reduced rate. These people have my sympathy. I don’t really like it, either. However, the overall production of my garden is better if I can get myself to pull out, for example, the determinate tomato plants that have finished ripening their main crop of fruits and plant something else there for the fall.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nutritional Value of Veggies: Dropping!

Loss of flavor in grocery store produce is one reason many people have started growing their own, most notably tomatoes, which are especially awful from the grocery store in winter. The flavor loss seems to be a side effect of improved keeping qualities and transportation survivability. These improvements are part of the overall goals of industrial agriculture over the last several decades: making food more abundant, affordable, and available year round. It’s hard to find fault with those very worthy goals, but, like all changes, some bad has come along with the good. Flavor is one quality that many eaters notice, but it turns out that flavor isn’t the only quality our food has lost over the years.

The June/July issue of Mother Earth News contains a summary article about a scientific study concerning nutritional content of veggies, past to present. The study is really a review article. Instead of reporting the result of one specific experiment, it pulls together the results of many experiments from a long period of time to show the trends of a particular area of research. The study, “Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Composition: What is the Evidence?” was written by Donald R. Davis and published in the Feb. 2009 issue of HortScience.

Apparently, over the last sixty or so years, the nutritional quality of our food has been dropping.

I do not have a copy of the original article to check, but according to the summary in Mother Earth News, Davis reported that a loss of nutritional value has occurred, especially in terms of mineral content, and this is due in part to breeding for higher production and partly to agricultural practices that reinforce that higher level of production.

Forcing growth through use of higher levels of fertilizers and irrigation has resulted in higher yields, but in lower mineral and protein content and increased carbohydrate content for at least some crops.

The summary article includes the idea that older varieties, specifically the lower yielding heirloom varieties, may be more nutritious than newer varieties that have higher yields. A plant may be taking up and distributing to its fruits the same amount of minerals, but these minerals are spread among fewer fruits in heirloom varieties, resulting in higher content per fruit.

Another consideration is that organic farming practices that utilize fertilizers in more complex states, like manures and compost, that are slower releasing, may also result in more nutritious, though lower yielding, crops, than the more readily -available -to -plants NPK formulations in most commercially available fertilizers.

Gardeners hoping to improve their families’ nutrition may want to consider these factors in planning next year’s garden. This may include plans to expand garden area, to make up for lower yields.

I am not sure whether this was addressed in the original study or not, but it is my thought, based on the summary article, that slower-maturing varieties may also have higher nutritional value because of the longer time they spend taking up minerals from the soil. At least, that seems reasonable to me.

This Morning's Harvest

These are the veggies that I brought in from the garden this morning. It isn’t a huge amount, I know, but every day the harvest is different, both in terms of quantity and variety. (Not sure what happened when I uploaded the picture, but Blogger turned it ninety degrees, and it is weird to look at. Sorry!)

Two different kinds of cucumbers are in the basket, along with two different bush beans, a little okra, an Arkansas Traveler tomato, Yellow Marble Cherry tomatoes, Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes, a zucchini, and an eggplant.

Growing a little bit of lots of different veggies is a good strategy for me, because even if/when one crop fails, I still get something to harvest. And, if one day’s harvest doesn’t result in enough of one particular veggie for a meal, it is likely that the following day or two will bring in more so that, added together, enough for a meal is gathered in.

The next eggplant to be harvested will be a Rosa Bianca instead of a Casper White, and the next squash will be a Trombocino (a.k.a. Zucchetta) Squash instead of a Raven Black Zucchini. In fact, this zucchini is the last; I pulled the plant out of the ground before coming into the house because the poor thing was so wilted from squash vine borer activity.

This morning’s harvest doesn’t include any peppers, even though plenty of peppers are out in the garden. Since leaving them on the plants tends to only improve their flavor, up to a point, we usually go out to get peppers as we need them. When lots of peppers start to change colors, or when a large enough quantity is suitably sized for canning, then the pepper-harvest strategy changes. Right now, the jalapenos look good, but the plants still have a lot of smaller peppers that will get bigger. When enough are big, we will harvest a bunch all at once and can some. Same goes for the salad peppers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just an Update

I returned from Oklahoma to find that my husband had done a great job of keeping the garden alive. While I was gone, he ate the first of the bigger ripe tomatoes, several peppers, a zucchini, and an eggplant.

The okra is a new variety, so he wasn’t sure whether it was ready; the pods are stubbier than the pods of Cajun Jewel, our usual variety. I’ve picked a small pile of the new okra to try, though, so I will soon know whether it is really ready or if some of the pods have been left too long on the plant.

Today I picked a quart or so of blueberries, and I brought in another tomato and some peppers. Amazingly, the remaining Slobolt lettuce is only a little bitter.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Late Blight Alert!

A 29 June 2009 news release from Massachusetts Extension announces that Late Blight of potatoes and tomatoes, the blight that caused the famous Irish potato famine, has been found in several northeastern states. One possible source of the infection is plants from the company Bonnie Plants, that are sold in stores in the northeast and also here in Georgia.

I have two Better Boy tomatoes that are Bonnie Plants, so I will be watching them carefully (except for this weekend when I will be in Oklahoma with one of the boys, shooting off fireworks with a gazillion cousins).

Signs of infection include "small olive green or brown lesions on the upper surface of the foliage or the stems. Under moist conditions, there is a white, fuzzy growth on the underside of the leaves where the lesions occur, but the absence of this growth does not rule out late blight. Eventually the lesions turn black, leaves start to die, and then the entire plant dies."

Any diseased plant should not be composted or burned. Instead, it should be wrapped in plastic and sent to the landfill. I know, this isn't ecologically sound on so many levels, but it is a good way to avoid spreading the disease to nearby gardens and farms.
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