Friday, March 26, 2010

A Gardening Story

I gave another “how to” talk on veggie gardening last night at the church of one of my friends, but I wasn’t the only speaker for the evening. The guy who followed me is a widower whose mother-in-law just celebrated her 101st birthday. My talk was pretty much about the nuts-&-bolts of gardening here in Georgia, so his talk was a great choice to follow mine.

He told about his own garden and about why he gardens: he just loves it!

He plants a very large garden and gives most of what he grows away. His green beans are State half-runners; he plants an eighty-foot row and has them climb up wire fencing. He cans many, many quarts of those beans every year.

He plants sixty tomato plants each year (all Park’s Whopper), but has never canned a single tomato. What he and his family don’t eat fresh, he gives away. He doesn’t even eat cucumbers, but he grows them, and he gives those away, too.

He told a couple of stories about gardening, and one story was from his childhood. Apparently, his father had a big garden, and the sons did a lot of the work in it when they were big enough. One hot, sunny day, the boys were sent out with hoes to clear out the weeds. They were told that their father would come get them in about an hour and a half.

The boys took off their shirts to work, but it was still a hot day, and the work was hard. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. After a while, a bird flew by and dropped a load down the back of one of the brothers. That brother dropped his hoe and said, “it’s raining. Time to get back to the house.”

That last bit made me chuckle, but there was more. It turns out that that particular brother has never planted a garden of his own in all his life.

It is interesting that people have such different reactions to childhood gardening. The one brother, the man giving the talk, developed a real love of gardening, and has kept on planting, tending, and harvesting his whole life. Another brother hated it, and never wanted to have anything to do with gardening ever again.

When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a garden. Sometimes when I talk with gardeners who remember working alongside parents or grandparents out in the garden, I feel a little twinge of envy. That history seems so wonderful, and I don’t have that. But after hearing the story, I’m not sure that the lack of childhood garden memories is such a loss.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Friend Susan's Upcoming Talk

My friend Susan, the leader of the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry project for which I am a volunteer, is giving a Vegetable Gardening talk Saturday, starting at 10:00 a.m., at McFarlane Nature Park (280 Farm Road, Marietta, GA---off Paper Mill Road, near Johnson Ferry Rd).

Anyone in the area who is new to growing food or who has questions about growing food would probably enjoy Susan's talk. She loves growing food and knows a lot about gardening in this area!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Broccoli, beets, and boron

In this area, when a garden’s soil test results come back from UGA, near the end of the report, in tiny print, is a note about adding boron to the soil for broccoli and beets. The recommendation is for 1 tablespoon of boron per 100 feet of row, or per 100 square feet.

Boron, an essential micronutrient for plant growth, tends to leach out of soils that receive a lot of rainfall, and the metro-Atlanta area usually (drought years excepted) gets at least 50 inches of rain each year. That counts as a lot.

The good news is that organic matter helps hold boron -- and other nutrients -- in the soil. This means that gardens to which organic matter has been added routinely are less likely to be deficient.

However, some plants need more Boron than others. Broccoli and beets are two that need more, but the Boron page of the Agronomic Library for Spectrum Analytics has a longer list of high-boron users, referred to as "high response crops," and the list includes other root vegetables in addition to home-garden staples like lettuce and corn. The page also includes a table of deficiency symptoms that might help a gardener figure out whether low boron is a problem in his or her garden.

I’m thinking about this now because I planted the carrot and beet seeds yesterday. Both are on the “high response crops” list, so I will be adding some to their space tomorrow (it is raining today).

Boron isn’t present in the usual NPK fertilizer formulations (which I will not be using again anyway), but it is available in the laundry-soap aisles of many grocery stores, as 20 Mule Team Borax. I never plant as much as 100 square feet of any one crop, so I adjust the amount of borax to match the approximate square footage that I’ve planted.

I usually add the borax to a full watering can and try to move the can smoothly over the planted area for even dispersal. It is also possible to just sprinkle the dry powder over the area, but any wind makes even distribution less likely.

I only add boron to the areas that are planted with “high response crops" each year, rather than the entire garden, because I don’t want to add too much. The problem with micronutrients is right in their category name, the prefix “micro.” They are useful only when present in very small amounts. Too much is as big a problem as too little, and getting rid of what’s already been added is much harder than adding more.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Compost is fleeting...

...but produce stickers are forever. I was scooping compost into my wheelbarrow, to use in the lettuce and spinach bed that I was getting ready to plant, when I saw (yet another) produce sticker.

I find these in my garden, too. Someday in the far-off future, an archeologist is going to stumble across the site of my garden and find this record of my family's produce-purchases. It will be quite a find, I'm sure.

The good news is that, while I was out working in the garden, I noticed that some of the peas managed to survive their too-early planting. There are spaces I will need to fill in with more peas, but I won't have to replant every last one.

The weather is beautiful today--67 degrees F and sunny. More of the same is forecast for tomorrow!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Peas Update

I usually plant peas when the trout lilies bloom in my yard, and that happens most years around the 20th of February. We’ve had a cold winter, and the daffodils also should have been blooming by then (and they weren’t), but when it got to be the 22nd, even though the trout lilies were only in bud, I planted the peas.

My excuse is that the day was warm and I was ready to plant. Of course, I knew better. I should have waited. A few days ago when I checked the garden, I figured out that most of those peas are never coming up, because they’ve rotted in the ground.

Now, though, it is safe to replant the peas. This is what the trout lilies look like today:

They are in full, glorious bloom! In a day or two, when the ground is less soggy (my yard has had 3.4 inches of rain in the last several days), I will replant the peas.

The great irony here is that I tell beginning gardeners that one common mistake in gardening is planting too soon, and that it is better to wait an extra week for better weather and warmer soil than to risk losing a crop to the cold. Maybe someday I will learn to take my own advice!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Planter's Progress

It's raining today, but in the last few days I've made some progress in getting things planted. Tomato, eggplant, pepper, dill, and fennel seeds are in those Jiffy-Pellet things, and onion sets and potato plants are in the ground.

Lifting the little potato plants, started from actual tiny seeds, out of the flat before planting was a bit tricky. The plants had grown enough that there was some tangling, but in the soil, connected to the underground parts, were tiny potatoes. You can see a couple in this picture:

When the ground dries enough to work again, I will be planting (outside) seeds of lettuces, spinach, carrots, and beets (probably more, but this is what I remember right now). The forecast out to a week shows no freezing weather.

I have lettuces and spinach in little six-packs to plant out, too. It really feels like spring, now!

The daffodils in the yard opened today, but the rain means I'm not taking a picture yet. Instead, I have a picture of the purple crocus from a few days ago.

Garden Talks

This is the month for all the "getting ready to garden" talks, and I am giving two of them. The first is on Friday, at noon, at the central library in Marietta. It is part of a Lunch & Learn series that is offered regularly through the year, with different topics each second Friday of the month. The other is on Saturday, at 9:30 in morning, at the Smith Gilbert Garden in Kennesaw.

My friend Susan, the fearless leader of our Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry group, will be giving a similar talk later in the month at McFarlane Nature Park in East Cobb.

I am assuming that we will both be brilliantly informative and not at all boring. Wish us luck!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gardeners Share

When the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry gardeners went to Ladd's Farm Supply store, it was suggested that we try State half-runner beans instead of the Mountaineer half runners that we usually grow. However, we were also told that if we ever came across a variety called Alabama Black, we should grow those. The store hasn't been able to locate a supply, but those, apparently, are The Best Ever.

Amazingly, today I came home with some Alabama Black half runner beans. I was delivering 25 pounds of seed potatoes to the couple (Jack and Becky) who wanted to split a 50 pound sack with the PAR garden, and the conversation came around to the trip to Ladd's and what else we had bought. I mentioned the Alabama Blacks, and the next thing I knew I had a little bag of black beans in my hands.

About 50 years ago, someone gave a small handful of these beans to Becky's father, and the first year he grew those all out to seed. The next year, he grew enough both to eat and to save for replanting. The family has been growing them ever since.

It turns out that Jack has been hoping for a good crowder pea, so I am going to give him some of my Pigott Family Heirloom crowder peas. Even though they are not at all beautiful, I think they are the Most Delicious Crowder Peas Ever. The afternoon worked out amazingly well.

I also learned a little more about growing sweet potatoes in this area. Becky's father, who grew sweet potatoes to sell commercially, would dig out the planting bed to about 15 inches and lay freshly cut pine boughs (with lots of fresh needles) at the bottom, then pull the dirt back in before planting the sweets. This helped heat the soil. In later years, he just laid black plastic over the beds to heat the soil, but I am trying to avoid using any more plastic than I have to, so I think I may try the trick with the pine boughs this year (if, in May, I remember).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Gardening Friend

This afternoon I stopped by the house of the Tomato Man in Kennesaw with a bag of potting soil. He had given me some Amish tomato plants last year, and I wanted to make sure I was on his list for this year, too. He seemed surprised that I brought potting soil, but I think he appreciated it.

He and his wife invited me in for a visit, and while he was looking for an article about growing tomatoes that he wanted to show me, his wife told me a story from her childhood. She was born in Kansas, but her father was in the military and they were moved to California when she was small. The aunt that she lived with when he got assigned out of the country (after Pearl Harbor) grew and canned peaches and apricots.

When Mrs. Tomato Man was a girl, she always pulled apricots apart into halves before eating them, and one day a friend asked why she did that. She said that it was because that's what her aunt did. One day when she and her friend were eating apricots, her friend bit into a whole one that turned out to be full of ants.

When the Tomato Man got back with his article, he handed it to me but then started to tell me his favorite part: Tomatoes were at one time (a very long time ago) thought to be poisonous; they are, after all, in the same family as the deadly nightshade, which can actually kill people if they eat it. But back in about 1830, a guy named Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, who according to the article is kind of the Cool Hand Luke of tomatoes, took a dare to eat a whole basket of tomatoes. Everybody figured he'd be dead at the first one, but he lived.

The Tomato Man made sure that I knew all the basics about tomatoes before I left, which was very sweet. I am incredibly fortunate to have struck up that conversation with him at the local Home Depot last year when we were both perusing the seed racks. If I hadn't, I would have missed making two friends.

And, I am extra-glad I stopped by early because it turns out that this year his garden is going to be much smaller. He has been retired for a long time. He was in the aerospace industry, designing parts for fighter jets. One jet in particular was for the Korean War, which is a clue to his age. Last year, his usual garden was just too much work.

This really firms up my commitment to save seeds from the garden this year. If I don't, this particular strain that has been grown locally for a couple of decades might be lost.

I asked where he got the seeds for his Amish tomatoes originally, and he said that he ordered them from a catalog. He didn't remember which one, but he did remember that the description said they were the only tomato grown by the Amish families in one particular area. The description also said that the Amish saved seeds for it every year, which is how he got the idea that he could save the seeds, too.

The plants produce tomatoes that are large, meaty, tasty, and multicolored. One plant can produce some tomatoes that are all pink, some that are all yellow, and some that are striped or swirled (both pink and yellow). Like many heirloom tomatoes, they aren't prolific producers (think Brandywine), but they are well worth my effort.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Planting Schedule Update

My Louisiana sister sent a link to an Old Farmers Almanac web-page that can create a planting calendar by zipcode. The page linked above is for the planting calendar for Marietta (not my town, but the one that the Almanac found). I was happy to see that, for the most part, the OFA agrees with my own standard schedule for most garden plants.

One big exception is potatoes; the OFA lists an April (!) planting date. I use an early-to-mid-March (depending on the weather) planting date for potatoes, and I am not alone in this.

One late February when I was up at Ladd's Farm Supply, I was talking with an old guy, one of the guys who has been growing food for decades in a huge enough garden that it needs a small tractor, who had already prepared rows for his potatoes and was planning to plant them when he got home that day. I remember feeling like a lazy-bones in comparison!

This year it has been so cold that the daffodils are almost a month late in blooming, so the April planting date might not be too far off for this year, but most years planting that late will leave potatoes trying to mature in the heat of July. That just doesn't seem right to me.

The OFA did have some other good news for me, though. It turns out that most of my already planned planting dates are also the ones recommended for people who are planting "by the moon." I know people for whom this is important--they say it really does make a difference, and I am ready to take all the help I can get.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gardeners on a Field Trip

Today was the second annual field trip to Ladd's Farm Supply store near Cartersville, Ga. (it's actually in Euharlee), for the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry (PAR) gardeners. Ladd's is about a half hour away from the garden where we work, which is where we met to pack ourselves into one enormous vehicle for the outing.

We came away with a 50 pound bag of Yukon Gold seed potatoes for the PAR garden (but we are splitting the bag with someone who has a very large home garden); the bag cost less than $17. We also bought 150 pounds of the slow release 10-10-10 that was recommended in the soil test results that came back from the University of Georgia, 50 pounds of Austrian winter peas to use as a cover crop next fall, and smaller packets of seeds for use in the garden this spring and summer.

After reviewing the varieties in stock and talking with "Jimmy," we made a couple of substitutions on our planting plan: Straight Eight cucumbers (instead of Marketmore) and State half-runner beans (instead of Mountaineer half-runners).

One of the great features of Ladd's is that seeds are measured into small brown paper bags using measuring cups, so we have a full cup, for example, of the State half-runner beans. For myself, I measured out a half cup of Wando pea seeds, and that cost 70 cents. I had used up all of my Wando seeds planting out the two rows of peas a week and a half ago, and I wanted to have some spares in case I need to fill in any gaps as the seeds germinate and grow in the garden.

Also available were white, yellow, and red onion sets. I bought a pound of the white for $1.50. Those will get planted this weekend.

Rain gauges were given (free) to gardeners, and we all (I am pretty sure) bought something. I noticed jars of local honey -- one of those went into my sack -- bird seed, small brown bags of seeds for planting (many kinds of beans! I bought a half cup of Henderson bush butter beans), and a small galvanized bucket.

Being normal women, on the way home we stopped in Cartersville for lunch at a restaurant that had been recommended to us, Appalachian Grill. The food was good and we all had fun.
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