Monday, July 30, 2012

Keeping Track of the Harvest: July

July's harvest total was 49.1 kg, which converts to 108 lb and 3.9 oz. Considering how my summer has gone, getting this amount of food out of the yard is amazing.

The breakdown is in kilograms here:

Tomatoes, ripe 23.2
Melons 10.95
Cucumbers 1.95
Eggplants 1.6
Blueberries 1.3
Bush beans, green 0.6
Peppers 6.85
Popcorn 1.95
Apples 0.55 (Colonade-type in pots)
Southern peas 0.15
Not too surprisingly, this is the biggest harvest-month of the year to this point. I have no idea how August will turn out, especially considering how the non-gardening part of my summer has gone, but I am not the only gardener who is having to work the gardening into the rare, spare spaces in her life.

And if I want next year to have a higher harvest total than this year (the total for 2012 so far is 268 pounds, 7.9 ounces), it's time to start working toward that goal.  Fall veggies will need to be planted very soon, and the planting begins with working more organic matter into the soil.

Right now, there is some buckwheat flowering where I plan to plant carrots. It has been holding nutrients for me, keeping them from washing out (from rain) or burning out (from heat). This coming weekend, the buckwheat will be turned under to add organic matter to the space, and carrots will be planted a week or two later. The melons also are just about done, and I'll be pulling those vines out, then adding compost to their area to get the soil in shape for the cool-weather veggies that will be planted in those spaces next.

It may seem strange to be getting the cool-weather veggies planted while it is still so stunningly hot outside, but gardening often requires actions that only make sense after a lot of thought and research. Many of the fall crops will require 70-80 days (two and a half months!) to fully mature in a sunny yard. My yard is a little less than fully sunny, which means I need to add another week or two to the days-to-maturity. If the first frost comes around 31 Oct., and I want some of the fall crops to be mature a week or so before then, I need to have seeds in the ground very soon.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gardens and Talks

This week I spent a couple of hours at a community garden in Smyrna, and it was mostly doing very well. It was great to see so many little gardens, and to meet more people who are focused on growing good food!

However, the garden was definitely having a pest problem. I have never seen so many beetles-per-square-inch before; these are kudzu bugs, and they were all over the pole beans:

So far, there is no good, established control method for these beetles, since they are new to the United States. Scuttlebutt has it that some entomologists at UGA are looking into the effectiveness of a parasitic wasp, but that's really all I've heard so far. It is likely, though, that if next year gardeners grow their beans under row covers, they will be able to avoid (or at least delay) such dramatic infestation.

The garden's tomato plants also had a problem, and I'm pretty sure it is Septoria leaf spot. The good news is that most of the garden beds already have produced a lot of tomatoes for the gardeners, so they have enjoyed a good harvest up to now.

The garden/farm where I volunteer on Saturdays has the same disease problem, and I'm guessing that it's only a matter of time before the leaf spot hits my garden, too. Disease has been a huge problem for gardens all over the area this year. Gardeners who are not all that concerned about using organic methods have been keeping the manufacturer of Daconyl (a fungicide) in business this year, and the rest of us are muddling through as best we can.

I pulled out the last of my Cherokee Purple plants yesterday, but I have several other tomato plants still producing, so I'm not totally heartbroken. Joe says that the Tomato Man's Amish tomatoes taste better, which means we still have what Joe thinks of as a "highly desirable" variety providing tomatoes for us.

Later today I'll get to visit another community garden, this one out in the north-east corner of the county, and I will be talking some about getting ready for planting fall veggies and about pest and disease problems.

On the evening of July 31, I'm scheduled to talk at the county Extension office about getting ready for the fall veggie garden. Anyone who wants to come should call the office to sign up (770-528-4070; or email

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Garden Goes On

In spite of the current chaos in my home and some smashed parts of the yard outside, the garden is still busy making food. We had just brought in a big pile of veggies on Monday afternoon, before the disaster, and on Tuesday morning I harvested a little more:

If I aim the camera just right, it's hard to tell that a tree fell on the house just a week ago. This part of the garden looks fine. The place where the okra was leveled is hidden behind some other tall plants:

The side yard was completely spared. It definitely looks fine:

Even though we've given away quite a lot of the most recently harvested fresh veggies (we are a little too preoccupied for canning), we still have plenty to work with. Joe managed to pull the dehydrator out of the debris, and after we cleaned it up we've been able to put it to use. The half-gallon jar on the table is full of dried tomato chips:

The melons are the first harvest from this year's round of the great melon de-hybridization project. All the melons in the photo were harvested at "forced slip." For each, the tendril nearest the melon was brownish, corky lines had begun to appear on the outside, and a definite aroma of ripe melon was easy to detect.

The first two we sliced through were both good, but they are not even close to being identical. One was very pale inside, and sweet. The other was green inside and less sweet. The paler one seemed to have more flavor, and it had a smoother texture, too.

When the seeds are dried and ready to package for next year, all that information will be recorded with them. It is likely that the seeds from the greener melon will not ever be planted, but it's hard to know at this point what I will need in the next few years of the project. For now, I am saving seeds from all the melons that seem reasonably tasty.

I've also put some tomato pulp and seeds from this year's Tomato Man's Amish in a cup to ferment a little before separating out the seeds to dry and save for next year.

This all feels a lot like progress.

Hope everyone else's gardens are doing well!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Crazy Disaster

Does it look to you as though a T. Rex might have wandered by and taken a big bite out of my roof?

That would be a much more interesting story than what really happened. In actuality, on Monday evening while my family was eating supper, a big oak tree from my neighbor's backyard fell onto/into my house.

Some of the garden was smashed, too.

We were sitting in this room when it happened:

Of course, pre-tree there was a lot less stuff lying around, and we didn't have the enormous "skylight" letting so much sunshine and greenery into the house.

The good news is that my little family is fine. We are only scraped and bruised, and the animals all seem to be fine, too. One of the dogs had to be helped out by the Cobb County Firemen who responded to my 911 call, and we will be forever grateful for their help. We were worried when she yelped and then struggled to get up but couldn't. Luckily, even though she was trapped under some debris, she wasn't seriously injured. At first we couldn't find the cat, but he had taken refuge upstairs.

The worst damage was in the dining room, so it is a good thing that we were being lazy, eating in the living room and watching TV. If we had been in the dining room, the disaster would have been more tragic than crazy. The table and chairs in there were buried (and broken) under some very heavy boards, roof supports, and branches.

People keep asking about the storm that must have brought the tree down, but there was no storm. That night, we had no wind, no rain until several hours after the event. The tree was brought down by gravity and probably the damage that results from several years of drought conditions. The root mass that came up at the far end of the tree didn't seem even close to large enough to hold up a 100-foot trunk and the associated big bunch of greenery. I can only guess that roots had been dieing, year after year, until they just could no longer hold the tree.

Some parts of my garden in the front yard were obliterated. The new patch of green beans is gone, as is the entire patch of parching corn that my son had asked me to grow. This is one of those times when the flexibility of gardeners is useful - I will just plan to try that corn again next year, because it is definitely too late to replant that particular variety this summer.

Even it weren't too late, my seeds were all packed up by a cleaning company, and I don't know when I'll get them back, so it looks like I won't be starting the Brassica-family plants this weekend as I had originally planned. For the most part, I will have to rely on the garden supply stores for the fall garden. That's OK. The available varieties won't be the ones I had selected, but they will work just fine.

In other good news, I have been reminded of how many amazing friends and neighbors I have. Several of my neighbors are storing my frozen garden produce in their freezers; another neighbor brought cardboard boxes late on Monday night and helped load up the things we thought we'd need for the upcoming week; one friend is keeping one of our dogs and another has the rabbits; one brought us lunch on Tuesday as we waited on the driveway for the next crew of workmen; one is serving as "communications central," sending out email updates to a large group of gardeners; others are waiting to find out what we need next. Of course, events at the house are unfolding at the speed of the Insurance Industry, so it's all in fits and starts with odd lulls and then spurts of activity.

I am getting the feeling that the pace of recovery overall is going to be annoyingly slow, but I keep thinking back to the miracle that we are all fine. The whole set of events has made me think of other miracles, like the one of Moses getting his people out of Egypt. The miracle (really a whole string of Divine Interventions) was followed by forty years of Work - plodding, annoying, and quarrel-inducing. In fact, the Work part seems to follow every miracle that I can recall.  So, I've had my miracle, and now there is some work ahead. Remind me, when I complain, that my work part of this miracle is going to be a whole lot less than forty years!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Tracking the Harvest: June

My yard isn't exactly in full sun. Most of it gets about an hour and a half in the morning, then it's in shade until a little past noon. The side yard doesn't get back into the sun until after 1 p.m. As a result, I don't really expect to bring in spectacular harvests.

In spite of the shade, though, the June harvest from the yard was surprisingly large. The weights below are kilograms:

Bush beans, green
Tomatoes, green
Berries, misc.
Onions, bulbing
Tomatoes, ripe

June total 37.45 kg = 82 lb and 9 oz
Running total: Jan. through June =160 pounds, 4 ounces

That seems pretty amazing to me.  However, to put this into perspective,  John Jeavons, in the book How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, has put together a table that includes potential crop yields for comparison.

According to the table, average U.S. yields of bush green beans are 12.9+ pounds per 100
sq. ft. (based on U.S. Dept. of Agriculture statistics). That number represents conventional
agriculture production. Using Jeavons' biointensive methods, the yields should be 30/72/108 pounds per 100 sq. ft., for beginning gardeners, good gardeners, and excellent gardeners with good soil and climate, respectively.

My 20 square foot patch of bush green beans that just finished production was in the
shadiest part of the veggie garden, and the harvest total from that patch was 5.45 kg,
which converts to 12 pounds 0.2 oz. This scales up to about 60 pounds per 100 sq. ft,
which is not quite as high a yield as a "good" gardener should achieve. However,
considering the shade, the pest pressure, and the weirdness of the weather, I don't think I
can complain about the bean harvest.

Planning Pays Off

Notice how there aren't any green beans in the most recent batch of harvested veggies?:

That's because the patch of beans I've been harvesting from so far looks terrible. I hope nobody else has quite this much trouble with those crazy Mexican bean beetles:

I harvested the last of the beans from the damaged patch, cutting the top growth off to add to the compost and digging the remainders back into the soil. The good news is that, having seen this kind of extensive damage before (year after year...), I planted a second patch of beans that is just about to start providing us with more beans:

We'll get a few more weeks of green beans before the beetles destroy this newer patch of plants, and I'll have another patch of beans coming up to replace these, too, if all goes as planned.

To be honest, I am surprised that there already are tiny beans on those plants, considering the recent extreme heat. Who would have thought that a variety of bush beans (Contender) could set beans on days with highs in the 100s? Most beans won't make in that kind of heat.

In the less-good-planning category, the Pigott cowpeas were planted a little too soon. They are coming up behind the cucumbers (which are on the trellis) and are growing fast enough that the cucumbers are in danger of being swallowed up.
If I were at home right now (I'm in South Texas, on a family visit), I would be starting seeds for my fall garden this weekend. For plants in the cabbage family, it's time! Instead, the seeds for this year's broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are going to have to wait another week. At least, though, I have a plan!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Last of the Zucchini, Plus Squash Beetles

When I pulled out the zucchini plants last week, after the squash vine borers had thoroughly infested the little patch, I first harvested a little pile of the dark squash. Some of it wasn't exactly full-sized, but it has all been good to eat!

The garden also has continued to provide quite a lot of cucumbers, and some tomatoes have been ready to bring in, too. The tomatoes in the basket are Yellow Marble cherry tomatoes and one Cherokee Purple. Some of the green Cherokee Purple tomatoes that I brought in from the sick plants that were pulled have also been ripening on the kitchen counter, so we are flush with tomatoes right now.

In other news - when I was visiting a community garden in Marietta, I saw squash beetles! The larvae are very similar to those of Mexican bean beetles, but the bristles are black.

The larvae also have the interesting habit of chewing a border around the area that they intend to eat. The chewed line is underneath the leaf, but over time the line of damage can be seen on the upper side of the leaf.

Needless to say, we smashed all the little beetle larvae that we could find.

I haven't seen these yet in my garden, but it would not surprise me if Another Pest of squash plants found its way to my yard.

Hope everyone had a great Independence Day!

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