Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sweet Potatoes at PAR

We cleared out the last of the crops from the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden today. There were still winter squash and sweet potatoes. Pulling up the squash vines was a big job, but we found more than 40 pounds of good squash in the vines, and we have been getting 20 or so pounds of squash each week for a while now. That was a successful crop!

The big job of the day, though, was digging up the sweet potatoes. (Alert: lots of photos ahead.)

Even though we already had done a lot of work cleaning up the squash vines, we were pretty excited about the sweet potatoes. Here we are, just getting started:

How clean we all still were! We found potatoes of all shapes and sizes, and every single one was a joy to find.

There were quite a few "lunkers" under those vines.

And this plant came up like a string of sausages, which made us all chuckle.

Part of the fun is that digging sweet potatoes requires partners. The person digging benefits from having a "spotter" to help make sure that no sweet goes unharvested.

We did all slow down a bit, after a while. The digging was hard work! It was great that so many gardeners showed up to help.

After watching several of us make trips to the compost pile with armloads of vines, Gloria very wisely went to get a wheelbarrow from the shed. At first, moving the vines to the (Very Large) compost pile hadn't seemed like all that big of a job, but the vines were heavy. The wheelbarrow helped.

We completed the first pass through the area where the sweet potatoes had been planted, pulling vines and digging, and then we re-dug the entire bed to locate strays. We found some, but not too many. It was a good idea to have done the extra work though. Look how many sweets we found after we were finally done!:

After the digging, we sat down to sort. The good sweets were destined for the Center for Family Resources in Marietta, but we always have a pretty big pile of damaged sweets. The garden has a wireworm problem that we have been treating with beneficial (predatory!) nematodes for a couple of years now, and that has been making a difference. We saw the least wireworm damage this year of any year so far.

In addition to the wireworm damage, there are always some sweets that are accidentally skewered by spading forks, and there is always some damage from small mammals. In the end, though, we had more than 260 pounds of good sweets to take to Marietta. They filled the back of our fearless leader's car.

The squash had to go in the back seat, along with her garden tools. It is amazing that any gardener's car is ever clean, but this car was spotless before the spading forks went in.

Besides the squash and sweet potatoes, the garden still had flowers in it, and those had to be cleared out, too. Cathy took a minute to make bouquets from the zinnias and the sprays of purple seeds from the Jewels of Opar, so most of us had flowers to bring home.

The next-to-last job for the morning was to spread kelp meal and some more sulfur (the pH is still a little high...) over the entire garden. The very last job was to finish marking the sprinkler heads for the new irrigation system. A couple of gardeners had been busy locating those and driving stakes next to them so they would be easy to spot, but there there were a few left to mark.

Tomorrow, the garden will be tilled, and next week, we will broadcast seeds for our cover crop. Then, sometime in the next few weeks, we will celebrate!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Veggies, Continued

The harvests aren't spectacular, but they have been steady. Today, we are scheduled for rain, which will help keep the veggies coming for a while longer. We don't get eggplant every day, so the picture includes a little more variety than usual for September in my yard.

The okra will probably get fried for supper either tonight or tomorrow; the tomatoes go into salads and sandwiches quickly enough that I will go hunting in the yard for more either tomorrow or Monday; some of the peppers we'll use in supper tonight, but the rest are headed for the freezer; and the white eggplant will be eaten in the next day or two.

The cowpeas have been both late and slow, which I am sure is my own fault. I have about a cup and a half of dried cowpeas so far. The peas in the picture will be added to the jar after they are shelled out and truly dry. I am hoping that the first freeze holds off long enough for the plants to produce a full quart, but that seems pretty unlikely.

I planted the cowpeas in the popcorn-patch in early July, after the corn was already very far along. Between the shade and the competition for water, the poor cowpeas had quite a struggle to get going. Last year, I had planted the cowpeas where and when the summer squash came out. That worked better. Live and learn.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sweet Exuberance

This is what I see every day when I go out the front door:

The sweet potatoes are actually planted in what is about a 6x3 foot arc of garden to the right of the bird bath. As usual with happy plants, they've spilled out all over.

I have another week or two to enjoy the craziness, but I plan to harvest them a little earlier than usual this year. I tend to wait until the middle of October, but we've hardly had rain the last several weeks, and the watering has been taking some time. I would like to be able to limit my watering efforts to the fall crops, which would make my evenings after work a little easier.

Plan for the Cabbage Worms

According to the Bug Review pages of University of Illinois's Extension office, there are actually three kinds of cabbageworms in Illinois. It seems likely that the same three pests are present in Georgia, too. And the result of all of them, if their preferred crop is left completely undefended, is the same: severe damage, to the point of "complete defoliation." Anyone who has seen this, along with the slimy-looking green feces left behind by the voracious caterpillars, knows that this is not a pretty sight.

Even though the name seems to limit these critters to cabbages, it really refers to the whole family of plants that cabbages are a part of, the Brassicaceae. At least one of the three kinds of caterpillars comes after my cabbage-family plants every year.

Usually, I cover my Brassicas with tulle or some other row-cover, to keep the parents of these caterpillars, mostly white butterflies, from laying eggs on the plants. No eggs means no caterpillars, so this plan works pretty well. However, the netting, propped up over the plants, in various configurations around the front yard, isn't exactly attractive.

Since the usual organic recommendation for caterpillar control is Bt, I decided to try it this year, hoping to avoid using so much netting in the front yard. As soon as the cabbage family plants were visible above ground, for those direct-seeded, or transplanted out to the yard, I started the weekly spraying. The brand of Bt I was able to find is Thuricide, and so far, it seems to be working.

The one drawback is that the caterpillars have to actually hatch out of the eggs and eat a little of the Bt for it to work. That means that a lot of the leaves of my brassicas have little holes in them. For the broccoli, this is not a problem at all; I'm not planning to eat the leaves, and the holes are pretty small:

Thinking about what this means for the flower buds of the broccoli plants that I want to eat, though, gives me pause. I know I am spoiled by the flawless heads of broccoli at the store, but I am hoping for some fairly pristine broccoli.

The bok choy is showing a little more damage than the broccoli. Maybe it is tastier?

I had kind of been hoping for leaves with fewer holes, so I may, as the plants get larger, cover the bok choy with netting. I know this sounds like overkill, but again, I would like to have a crop that is as beautiful as it can be, within reason.

When I decided to try the Bt, I obviously hadn't thought it through completely. It makes perfect sense that the caterpillars are going to have to eat a little bit of leaf in order to get enough Bt into their systems to kill them.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry Update

At the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry (PAR) garden, we are hoping to plant a winter cover crop this year. We've chosen Austrian winter peas, because a local, long-time gardening friend (Jack H.) recommended them.

I have grown vetch as a cover crop in my own garden before. Getting it turned under in the spring was amazingly difficult, and it was also difficult to pull the chickweed that came up with it. A lot of the chickweed re-seeded in those beds, which caused a bit of a problem the following winter.

Our Fearless Leader has grown winter rye as a cover crop, and she said that it was hard to turn under in spring, too.

We are both hoping that Jack, who grows these Austrian peas in winter, is right about how much easier they are to till back into the soil in spring.

In order to get the peas planted early enough to get established before the first frost, we will have to remove the other crops currently in the garden. Next week, we will pull out the peppers, tomatoes, and okra. The following week, we will dig up the sweet potatoes and harvest the remaining Seminole pumpkin squash.

After pulling out the remaining crops, we plan to spread some kelp meal, to correct a low level of potassium and to add some trace minerals. The manager of the property where the garden is located (at Smith Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw) is going to till the entire garden for us on September 30, so we can plant our cover crop the next week (thank you Doug!).

The dream is that the Austrian peas will improve the soil, partly by adding nitrogen and partly through increasing the organic matter.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Remember the Beauty

This year's Dakota Black popcorn harvest isn't as large as last year's, but I will still get to enjoy my own black-hulled popcorn this winter. I pop corn in a saucepan (with the lid on, for obvious reasons) on the stove, and when I peek under the lid as the popping slows, the popcorn usually startles me into thinking I've already burnt it. Makes me laugh, every time.

When I got home from work this afternoon, I took my usual stroll around the yard to check on the garden, and I saw this sleepy bee (behind and to the right of the big pepper) on one of the Ancho pepper plants. It finally flew away (I got closer to it than it was comfortable with, I think), so I know it wasn't just dead. I am glad to know that bees just hang out in the garden, even when they aren't busy with the flowers.

A recent blog post by a friend in Florida, Rabbi Yaakov Thompson, got me to thinking about beauty in the world. He was writing about sukkot, and he closed with this:

. . . remember how very delicate the world is. Hold the lulav and etrog and remember the beauty that exists in this world. Pray for the well-being of others and hope they pray for yours!

I kept thinking that gardeners, in general, remember the beauty almost every day. Even when things are not going as well as planned (see previous post about Mexican bean beetles), there is a lot of beauty and a lot of joy in a garden.

This week, in my yard, the sweet potato vines are overflowing their bed, bees keep pollinating the peppers, the flowers on the okra plants are amazingly large and lovely, and the lettuce babies and other fall greens are full of promise. The whole thing makes me smile every morning when I walk out the front door.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Between Seasons

The summer crops are definitely slowing down, but it doesn't help that I've pulled up a lot of plants to make room for fall veggies. What's interesting is that there are so many green tomatoes out on the plants that are left, and yet my tomato harvest for today isn't especially spectacular.

One plant that HAS been spectacular is the Yellow Marble cherry tomato. One evening last week, the major ingredient for our pasta sauce was little yellow tomatoes, and we have been running a tray of these through the dehydrator every week or two.

We expect to sprinkle the little dried tomato chips onto salads and sandwiches throughout the winter.

On the tray, before they go into the dehydrator, the tomatoes look like egg yolks.

The one plant that is producing all of these yellow cherry tomatoes is still going strong, but I am going to pull the plant up soon regardless, to make way for some more kale.

Another tomato variety that has gone "above and beyond" in terms of production is the Wuhib paste tomato. I have two of these in the ground, and both are still covered with green tomatoes even though these plants have been producing steadily all summer long.

Cherokee purple, the variety that did so well for me last year, was kind of a bust this year. We got some tomatoes from these, but not the abundance that we had last year. However, Rutgers has been producing steadily all summer long, so the relative lack of Cherokee purple tomatoes hasn't been a disaster.

I did start additional tomato plants to set out at the end of June, when the onions and garlic came out. These plants (two Rutgers, two costolluto genovese, two yellow-out-red-in) are now just about bursting with green tomatoes. The yellow-out-red-in tomatoes are small, but a couple have ripened already so I can say with assurance that they are good to eat.

As expected, all the peppers have been very happy with the extraordinarily hot summer; they are all doing just fine. We eat a lot of peppers, though. These (Ancho peppers) will probably be filled with that Mexican crumbling cheese, that doesn't liquify and run out of the pepper when it gets hot, and cooked out on the grill.

The "real" spinach (Malabar spinach to me, "real" spinach to the mail carrier from Barbados)is taking over its bed and the one next to it. The vines have stretched across the aisle in between the beds and are now climbing through the okra. I obviously have a lot of eating to do.

My fall crops are all still pretty small. The beets are just strappy cotyledons poking out of the ground, but the Bok Choy, spinach, lettuce, carrots, radishes, etc. have all past that stage; most of those plants have at least a couple of true leaves now. Seeing them out in the garden makes me happy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mexican Bean Beetles

Every year brings its own trials. This year, the Mexican bean beetles have been ferocious. At the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden, we tried spraying with Neem, but that didn't seem to bother the beetles at all. At home, I've just been smashing them, one beetle (or larva) at a time, but the beetles are winning. This is what most of the leaves on my pole beans look like:

And this is the adult form of the critter that is turning the bean leaves into lace:

The adult beetle looks enough like a ladybug (it is even in the ladybug family!) that most people would think it's a good guy. They would be wrong.

When the beetles are mature, they lay eggs, clusters of yellow dots. At some point, these eggs will hatch.

When the eggs hatch, what comes out doesn't look at all like a beetle. It is a fuzzy yellow larva. The larval stage of this beetle is heck on the leaves of bean plants. When I was looking for larvae to photograph, I couldn't find any young ones. These (below) have gone, I think, into the pupa stage.

When the pupa completes its development, it breaks out of its husk (like cicadas do) in the more familiar beetle form. There is an empty husk on the upper leaf in the picture below.

The big question is what to do about all these beetles. I am thinking about pulling up all the pole bean plants, but I still have cowpeas growing in another part of the garden. I am concerned that, without the pole beans around, those cowpeas will look a lot more tasty; right now, the cowpeas are bean-beetle free.

I have read that adult beetles overwinter in leaf litter, so I am definitely going to be turning the garden's soil some this winter, to make sure that remaining adults are exposed to whatever cold we have this year--- but last year we had a very cold winter; I am not sure how so many beetles survived!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tropical Greens

We had a substitute mail carrier one day last week. I was out in the yard and she stopped to lean out after delivering our mail. She peered over at the nearby trellis and asked, "Is that real spinach?"

It was actually Malabar spinach that was twined all over that trellis, but to her, that's real spinach. It turns out that she is from Barbados, and her mom used to cook with leaves from that vine all the time. It was perennial in Barbados, but she didn't think it would grow here at all. She was both surprised and happy to see mine!

A couple of years ago she had tried to grow it here, but didn't have any luck. I told her that mine had taken a Very Long Time to germinate (more than three weeks!), and that it didn't grow well until the weather turned hot. I think she is going to try again. I told her to come back by for seeds in a few weeks.

One way her mom used to use this real spinach was to snip the leaves into rice as a substitute for peas. She claimed that the leaves are very high in iron, so they are good for anyone who is a little low on that particular mineral. I haven't looked that up, but it is interesting to consider, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise, considering that most greens are very nutritious.
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