Saturday, September 29, 2012

Plant Health Management

I went to a workshop about organic farming/gardening down at Fort Valley State University this past week. Most of the speakers addressed the administrative end of things - how to get a farm certified as being organic, who needs to get certified, who qualifies for financial help and where to get that help. That was all great information, but that wasn't all we heard about.

Dr. Elizabeth Little, a plant pathologist with UGA, was also there, and her talk was very different. She said some things I've been trying to tell people for years, but she said it all better and with the authority of a PhD who has been doing actual, official research into the topic. The gist of it was this:
There are no organic products that REALLY work for disease management; switching to organic farming or gardening isn't about simple substitutions of one chemical for another. Essentially, in organic operations, it's all about prevention.

The organic farmer/gardener takes a systems approach to plant health - based on fertility, plant selection, crop rotation, sanitation, and site selection. The organic system also relies a lot on biological interference with disease; by promoting a good ecological system in the soil (a wide range of fungi, bacteria, and creepy-crawlies), the organic gardener/farmer heads off many potential problems.

Any problems that crop up typically indicate an underlying health issue.
She emphasized that healthy plants resist disease, and that we can promote good root growth and beneficial microflora (and by doing so improve plant health) through providing compost and other organic amendments, by mulching, by reducing the amount of tillage, and by using cover crops.

Encouraging predator insects, parasitoids, and microbes as allies was also brought up. Relying on an ecological approach of planting flowers that are attractive to these beneficial organisms was part of the biological approach of disease prevention. Some diseases are in the wind and can't really be intercepted or diverted, but others are spread through the feeding of insects, kind of like the way mosquitoes spread disease from one animal to another. The "beneficials" help by attacking the disease-spreading insects.

When I spoke with Dr. Little later in the day, when we were touring the campus farm, she emphasized the "right plant in the right place" approach to plant health in a great example: She said that she had seen lone tomato plants out in the full sun, with good mulch around them, well-fertilized and mulched, and they were completely unblemished - no signs of disease anywhere - when other tomato plants in the area were definitely ailing.

It was great that she chose Tomato as her example, because that seems to be the garden vegetable that is most affected by disease, in a way that causes the most distress to the gardener, in Georgia. Usually, when someone asks me about disease in the garden, we end up talking about tomatoes.

I left the workshop feeling extra-motivated to keep emphasizing the importance of all the little steps - using compost, paying attention to plant varieties and their disease resistance, making sure there is adequate sunlight for the plant, and using mulches and cover crops.

All in all, it was a great day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We're Back in the House!

We've been allowed (after almost two and a half months!) to move back into the house. We've been living in a hotel ever since the tree smashed the house, and it is GREAT to be back home. Most of the undamaged contents of the house have been returned, and we've unpacked all the boxes that we've received so far. The stack of empties is a joy to behold! They mean we're making progress.

Getting ready for the move back, contacting power and phone companies, arranging for everything to be turned back on, meeting with assorted contractors and workers, has been very time-consuming, but totally worthwhile. I'm sorry, though, that I am so late in posting to the blog.

While we lived at the hotel, I made almost daily trips to the house, and I worked on the garden. If the work has the intended results, these plants will be giving us cabbages in five or six weeks:

Other crops are coming along, too. The lettuces are about four inches high, the carrots, planted in two waves, are fairly well established, and other brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, radishes) are looking just as I would have hoped. Of course, the weeds also are looking quite robust, so I have more work ahead. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bean Leaf Rollers - Late Summer Pests on Beans

The bean leaf rollers are late-summer pests that don't always show up in my Georgia garden, but they apparently are all over Florida, because most of the information about them is from research done there. The caterpillars grow up to become long tailed skippers - pretty little brown butterflies - which is part of the reason I'm going to let these live, as long as the damage doesn't become too extreme.

Below is one more video, this one about my favorite cowpeas. Not only are these Pigott Family Heirloom peas hilariously vigorous climbers, but they also are delicious. For the vegetarian crowd, these are great as the base for a vegetarian gravy as well as when they are prepared as just cooked beans to have with cornbread.

I enlisted one of my sons as a cameraman this morning to make these little videos for me. These are both totally unrehearsed and mostly unplanned, so they might seem a little random in spots, but Zack did a GREAT job of figuring out where to aim the camera as I spoke. It totally isn't his fault that I make weird faces when I'm talking.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tracking the Harvest: August

It's been a long, tough August at my house, but the garden has pulled through for us pretty well. The harvests haven't been spectacular, but they've been steady. The weights, as always, are recorded in kilograms:

Tomatoes, ripe
Southern peas
Trombocino squash
Butternut squash, dwarf

The August total is 21.9 kg, which converts to 48 lb and 4.5 oz.
The 2012 running total, from Jan. through Aug., is 316 pounds, 12 ounces.
Parts of the garden, including the fig tree, were smashed when the tree fell, but I don't think the smashed parts would have added tremendously to the total. Besides the figs, we lost bush beans, parching corn, okra, and some herbs.

Transition to Fall

We're still getting peppers, tomatoes, an eggplant and trombocino squash every now and then, and cowpeas, and I am hoping that soon we will be able to add bush beans to the harvest. This is the most recently planted patch of beans - to replace the patch that was wiped out when the tree fell across the top of the house and smashed part of the garden:

The little bean patch is looking pretty promising; if all goes well, it will make a nice transition to the fall crops.

Meanwhile, the lettuces have been growing.

Other planted-from-seed crops also have grown beyond the seed-leaf (cotyledon) stage, and the transplanted veggies are all in, too. Yesterday I was able to plant the cauliflower -- the last of the fall veggies to be planted.

When the rest of the summer crops come out, some spaces will be planted with onions and garlic, and the rest will go into cover crops. Amazingly, it seems as though the fall garden is mostly on track! Here's hoping for decent weather and no more falling trees.

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