Monday, June 24, 2013

An Animal Surprise in the Garden

In my front-yard garden, I have seen many different kinds of animals, or evidence of their having stopped by, over the years. Some of the animals are pests, and but not all.

Of course, there has been a vast assortment of the neighborhood pets, both dogs and cats. We've had rabbits (the native kind), chipmunks, voles, possums, rats, box turtles, lizards, frogs, salamanders, and snakes. (How could I forget even ONE of the snakes? They are always such a surprise.) I've seen deer walking up the road, thankfully not stopping to check out my garden. And there have been birds of all kinds: those pesky crows, the whole list of species that eat my blueberries, goldfinches, hummingbirds, crested flycatchers, loud wrens, and many more. There are coyotes and racoons in the woods out back, but I haven't seen them or their footprints in front.

If anyone had asked, I would have said that I had seen pretty much all of the kinds of animal-visitors-to-the-garden that I would see.

So this visitor to the garden was unexpected:
Snapping turtle visits the garden.                PHOTO/Amy W.
I had been about to walk down that path to pick a cucumber when the sight of this snapper stopped me in my tracks. I think she was looking for a place to lay her eggs, but the clay in the paths is pretty tough stuff to dig in.

After a few minutes, she got herself turned around,  picked herself up -- on surprisingly long legs -- and made her slow way back toward the creek.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Found Food: Black Trumpet Mushrooms

When I was out walking the dog the other day, I noticed some very tiny yellow chanterelle mushrooms beginning to form. In years past, a place I know that has tended to produce small numbers of black trumpet mushrooms has been "past its prime" by the time the chanterelles were large and well-formed, so I went (as soon as I could) straight to the black-trumpet-spot to check it out, hoping that I hadn't missed the magical black-trumpet time.

If I had been a day or two later, the mushrooms might have been larger, but waiting also meant risking a total loss if I couldn't get back to the spot in time.  This is what I was able to harvest:

Small Black Trumpet mushrooms.                                  PHOTO/Amy W.
I don't think I can complain! These mushrooms weigh very little, but they are packed with amazingly wonderful flavor.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Persistent Herbicides, OR, Manure Isn't What it Used to Be

Pepper plant affected by persistent herbicide in Cobb County, GA. PHOTO/Amy W.
I have a friend who has been farming for a very long time, and his life experience has told him that Manure Is Good.

He has friends - owners of stables of horses - who offer to provide him with enormous amounts of composted manure, and he accepts.

Even though he has had trouble with manure before (a couple of years ago), he spread it on some of his planting beds again this year, and the tomato-family plants, not too surprisingly, have become twisty and weird.

The leaves from before the spreading of the compost look fine, but all the growth since the application looks pretty bizarre.

The North Carolina State Univ. publication about Herbicide Carryover explains that the chain of herbicide-treated hay to horse to compost needs to be very clear. Unfortunately, in the casual exchanges of small-plot farmers, the information chain can become a little vague. That can be a problem for garden-farmers who are hoping to produce healthful food from their land.

For any of us who have always thought that manure can be a great amendment to the soil for their vegetables, it is good to remember that times have changed, and that not all composted manures are what they used to be.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Finally, a Summer Harvest!

I have been bringing in green beans for a few days now, and this is not the first pepper, and the zucchini isn't quite full-sized, but today is the first day I could bring in more than one or two kinds of veggies from the garden in the same day.

In honor of the occasion, I have arranged it all in Grammy J's cut glass bowl (Grammy J was my mother's mother's mother -- my great grandmother). That is just how happy I am with the little harvest.

First real harvest of summer crops, 2013.            PHOTO/Amy W.
I brought in the regular bulbing onions today, too, but they need to dry a few days on the front porch before I trim and weigh them.

The 2013 harvest of bulb-type onions from my yard.        PHOTO/Amy W.
We've had crows in the yard over the past couple of weeks, which means that seedlings have been pulled up and tossed about. I've replanted some of the cucumbers (and melons, and butternut squash) more than once.

To protect the most recent batch, I cut the bottoms from small plastic cups then pushed the cups down around the seedlings as they emerged. This seems to have been enough protection; the smallest cucumber plants finally all have a couple of true leaves. This may be enough that they are no longer so attractive to crows.

At home and at the garden/farm where I volunteer, I have been pruning the tomato plants. If I can't stand up tomorrow, it's because I have been hunched over pruning leaves and suckers from about 150 tomato plants in the past couple of days. Here in the South, diseases are an ever-present threat to tomatoes. It can help if the plants are pruned up a bit.

I like to get them to the point that there are no leaves within about 18 inches of the ground, and I prune away leaves that are growing in toward the center of the plant, to create a cone of air-space in the center. This takes several weeks of work as the plants grow, but the improved airflow can help keep the remaining foliage drier and less susceptible to the most common airborne fungal diseases.

Hope all the other gardens out there are growing well!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Plenty of Blossoms, But No Big Zucchini

My Raven zucchini plants are flowering, but it will be awhile before I have sizable squashes to eat. That's because the flowers that are farthest along in development are all female.

Squash family plants have separate female and male flowers. Annoyingly, if the two kinds aren't open and ready at the same time, no pollination takes place, and the little fruits at the base of the female flowers just languish, wilt, and drop off.

Two female flowers, fat yellow buds almost ready to open, sit on tiny, undeveloped squashes. PHOTO/Amy W.
The male flowers sit on top of slender stems, rather than on tiny squashes. In the second picture (below), there is a male flower in the foreground. It is still very green, and I don't expect it to mature for a few more days. In that time, a lot of female flowers in my squash patch will have opened and missed being pollinated.

Male squash flower in the foreground sits on a slender stem rather than a tiny fruit.  PHOTO/Amy W.
Anyone who's had the experience of seeing lots of blossoms, but a week or so passes without any squash developing, has probably had this same situation -- lots of one kind of flower and none of the other. Eventually, the other flowers develop and the squash/fruits finally begin to grow, but the wait can be tough.

For gardeners whose squash patches are small (just a few plants), if a quick check of the plants shows a few females but only one male in full bloom, that mature male flower can be plucked from the plant, the petals torn away, and pollen-holding parts (anthers) used to pollinate all the open female flowers.

In the early part of squash season, I tend to do just that -- "be the bee" for a couple of weeks -- until I see plenty of pollinators working to take back that job.
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