Sunday, May 27, 2012

Garlic! Potatoes! Etc.!

The garlic and potatoes, both in the same bed, have been looking pretty miserable for a while now, so I finally dug them all up. The harvest was a big (emphasis on Big!) surprise. The Rabun County garlic is the pile of big bulbs on the left in the picture:

It's a little hard to tell from the very busy photo, but a couple of those Rabun County bulbs are almost four inches in diameter. Needless to say, I'm "pleased as Punch." Most of the rest of the harvest turned out well, too, although the Elephant garlic was disappointingly average.  I haven't weighed the bulbs yet. I'm going to leave them out on the shady front porch for a couple of days to dry out a little, then finish trimming the bulbs (I already trimmed off the rootlets).

I had been thinking that the potato harvest would be pathetic, considering the weather this spring, but it wasn't. I ended up with a little more than eighteen pounds of spuds from my two five-foot rows. The two rows were crammed into a space that is only about two feet wide, and I had thought, at planting time, that maybe I should just be planting one row in that narrow space, but there I was with extra seed potatoes and only a little space.

The White Cobbler was a lot more productive than the Red Pontiac, but that may be a result of the warm spring. I think White Cobbler tolerates the heat a little better.

The basket to the right in the picture above contains the tiny harvest from the multiplier onions. I plant these every year, in spite of the lack of robust productivity, on the chance that, one of these years, I will figure out exactly the right combination of everything to make these work for me. It is possible that our winters are just too warm for them, but the notion of being able to replant onions each year without actually having to buy sets or starts of any kind is appealing enough that I am not giving up yet.

In other news, this is yesterday's harvest from the garden:

It still seems insanely early to be bringing in zucchini, but here they are!

And in yet other news, a couple of the baby bunnies will be heading off to new homes this week. Einstein (black with a white head) will be going home tomorrow afternoon, and Louie (the brown-with-silvering baby, soon to be called Darwin), will be heading toward his new home on Wednesday.

Since they are only about nine weeks old, this all feels like progress!

We plan to keep a white bunny (Burrito), as a companion for Mama Moonpie, but the other white (Tiny) and the black and white one (Holstein) that is almost like a Dutch breed bunny still need a home.

To get them all together for a group photo, I dropped a handful of alfalfa hay into the middle of their Timothy hay. They love alfalfa hay!

When the crowd has thinned out some, it will probably seem strange to be able to sweep the bunny enclosure without having two or more babies hopping into the dust pan, another one chasing the broom, and one or two others trying to sit on my feet, but I am sure I will get used to it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pruning Tomatoes on a Blazing Hot Day

Gardeners can be a little bit crazy, working outside in weather that everyone else avoids by staying in the air-conditioned indoors, and my crazy-gardener streak was showing earlier today. This is the first officially hot day of the year, with a high around 92 degrees, and I "celebrated" by pruning tomatoes, after hoeing weeds out of several beds, at the garden/farm on Dallas Highway where I volunteer on Saturdays.

Here in Georgia, it is a good idea to prune away, while the tomato plants are still small, most of the growth (leaves and suckers/stems) below the first flower cluster, then when the plants are bigger to give them another trim, to open up the plant for improved air flow. This pruning helps reduce the risk of several diseases, so the effort is totally worthwhile. Out at the garden/farm, there are tomato plants in both stages of growth. I worked today on the littler plants.

You know you've done a good job when you look back at the row and every plant you see looks like something Charlie Brown would choose for use in the Christmas pageant. In fact, I thought I had pretty well massacred the 40-or-so plants that I'd worked on, but then one of the chief gardeners came along behind me and clipped a leaf here and there from some of the plants. Apparently, I am a fairly conservative pruner.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Are We Sure this is Spring?

It's hard to take spring seriously when it is already looking so much like summer out in the garden. The zucchini have begun to make good-sized squashes, some of which have already made it onto the stove:

The first green beans will be coming in tomorrow:

And the peppers are already beginning to form. These, I think, are Spanish Spice:

These are Feherezon:

Is that not crazy? Elsewhere in the garden, the patch of onions that I planted from dry sets (little dry bulbs) all sent up flowering stalks before the plants even had a chance to make bulbs, so the harvest from that patch is not going to be what I had hoped for. In addition, the few good bulbs in the patch will need to be eaten fairly soon since they've been split by those flowering stalks.

The onions I planted from a little bunch of slender green starts made smaller-than-usual bulbs and then threw in the towel a week ago; the tops turned brown and fell over. Onions usually don't call it quits until the end of June. Everything I've read indicates that the alternating warm and cold weather is behind the early maturity, and the early flowering, of the two crops.

The garlic is finishing early, and strangely, too. The leaves are beginning to yellow, so I pulled a couple of bulbs to check on how the crop is coming along. This is what I got:

It's hard to imagine that these two garlic bulbs were growing within two feet of each other in the bed, but they were. They are different varieties, but the two shouldn't be so very different in size! I am guessing that the rest of the garlic harvest is going to be equally strange; however, I am going to wait until the tops are absolutely brown before pulling any more from the ground. I'd like give any remaining tinies the opportunity to get bigger!

In the good news column, the Yellow Marble cherry tomato has been busy making little tomatoes. There are lots of these on the one plant of this variety:

Most of my other tomato plants, all started in the house in mid-March, are flowering, and a few have tiny tomatoes on them. Their timing is just about right, based on the usual unfolding of the gardening year.

Since the zucchini are being nicely productive right now, I went ahead and poured a little fish-emulsion fertilizer on them, to keep them going. It would be a shame to risk letting the plants slow down this early in the season!

Also today I turned under the pea vines. The harvest from the peas this year wasn't great, but that is my own fault. It turns out that bunnies really like pea vines in their "bunny salad," so I brought pieces of the plants in to Moonpie (our momma rabbit) and her babies most days while the plants were trying to make peas. I'm pretty sure I would have had more peas if I hadn't kept harvesting pieces of the vines.

By Friday or Saturday, the vines will have decomposed enough that I will be able to replant that space. At this point, it's hard to know what to put there. Some of my crops are running about a month ahead of their usual schedule. Considering the strangeness of this year's weather and its effects on the garden so far, what will June and July be like? The answer, probably, is "continued craziness."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What Home Gardening Contributes

One reason I routinely check the Energy Bulletin news round-up site is that, in addition to the links to stories about energy, it includes a lot of links to stories about gardening and small farms. This morning's set of food/agriculture stories (click link to see the set) has a comment underneath that is worth pondering. The comment is about the imprecision of language - and math - that is used to talk about productivity of gardens and small farms.

The commenter, who identifies him/herself as The Food Calculator, wrote,

I have read reports from from urban farm, stating that they feed 100 people. They actually sell 100 boxes of 10 pounds of vegetable per week. then they tell people, we produce tons of vegetable and people goes wow!, TONS... and people goes : if this tiny roof garden feeds 100 people, then 10,000 of them in our city, and it will feed 1 million people. we don't need farm anymore! ...

The fact is that 10 pounds of tomatoes or cucumbers or other vegetables like this, at 100 calories per pound for vegetables, is 1000 calories per week. if an adult needs in average 2500 calories per day (that's 17500 per week) then the 10 pounds of vegetable is only 6% of the calories needed.

I have run into the same problem in talking about the productivity of home gardens. By midsummer, we are all hauling in many pounds of food from our gardens each week, enough food that it seems as though we ought to all be food-self-sufficient, but we are unlikely to be feeding our families exclusively from the garden. The suburban gardeners, for the most part, are still visiting grocery stores for oil, dairy, grain products, dried beans, and more. When other people, especially non-gardeners, see the great baskets of food coming into the house, it can be hard to get this point across.

My own thinking is that, unless the gardener is growing serious quantities of staple crops that provide a lot of protein - like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans for drying, or large amounts of corn or other grains - home gardening's biggest contribution is generally in ensuring variety in the diet and providing vitamins and minerals.

This can make a huge difference in people's daily meals, especially since homegrown veggies and fruits are so very tasty, but that isn't the same as providing all the food that a family eats. Some people, whose gardens are larger and more focused on staple crops, may actually be feeding themselves mostly from the garden, but a lot of us are growing what are maybe better described as luxury foods: our favorite tomatoes, baby zucchini, specialized greens, fancy cucumbers.

The luxury foods are highly nutritious, and I wouldn't want to be without them, but in hard times it is also good to be able to grow some of the staple foods. Each year I grow a little patch of potatoes, a little patch of sweet potatoes, and some popcorn (this year there also is some parching corn). The patches are small enough that the food they produce only lasts a few months, at most, before it is gone, but they are also enough that I have a clue about the size of garden I would need if I were to try to feed my family almost exclusively from the yard. The garden would need to be bigger!

For the five or so months of our garden's peak production, my family doesn't need to visit the produce department of the local grocery store for ingredients that help us create varied and healthful meals - the garden supplies plenty - but we go there anyway because we like bananas, mangoes, and avocados, none of which grow in our yard. We also pick up oil, dairy, grain products, dried beans, and more.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Summer is Busting Out All Over

While I was gone again to Oklahoma (for an ongoing family issue) the garden decided that summer is essentially here. I got back home to find that the squash plants have begun to make squash!

It seems insanely early to me, but the biggest of the six plants all have female flowers opening. There haven't been any male flowers open to pollinate the females, so we had several small, un-pollinated zucchinis last night in our sauteed veggies, but some male flowers should be opening soon. When that happens, the zucchinis will be pollinated and grow, rather than just stay small.

For those who aren't sure how to tell the male flowers from the female flowers: The easiest way to tell the difference is that female flowers all sit on top of tiny squashes, and the male flowers are on non-fruiting stems. In the photo above, there are a couple of male flowers on long, slender stems in front, and the large yellow blossom in back, whose stem looks like a tiny zucchini, is a female.

The progress of the bush beans is less of a surprise. When my planting is on track, I tend to start bringing green beans to the kitchen in May. This picture shows a couple of pretty bean flowers and one of the tiny, just beginning, green beans. This year's first patch of green beans is in the shadiest part of the garden, but beans do better with less sunlight than many of the summer veggies, so I am expecting to eat a lot of beans from this ~3.5X5 foot patch.

It will be awhile before we have mature peppers, but the flowering has begun. I have always liked the color of the flowers on this particular jalepeno.

One side of the garden has a big, unruly patch of perennial flowers in it. This is the part nearest the utility pole. I have kept the food plants about ten feet away from the pole to avoid any possible contamination of our veggies. It was great to arrive back home to find enormous heads of lilies in bloom. I am not sure how the stalk is holding up all the weight of these flowers and buds!

The rain gauge was showing that we'd had nearly three inches of rain while I was away, and it is raining again today. Luckily, I got some yard work done yesterday in advance of the rain. It is going to be mucky for at least a couple of days after this weather system passes!
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