Friday, May 23, 2014

Not Finished with Planting, and Still Harvesting Lettuce

There has been a lot of Life in my life lately, which means that my planting isn't exactly following my plan. I think that happens pretty much every year, so I am not surprised. Really, the year that everything else is so calm that I get the gardening done on a good schedule is probably going to be a boring year (except for the really great garden!).

In the "going right" column, I can list the continued harvest of peas, lettuces, and strawberries, along with a few increasingly spicy radishes. Some day soon, the beets will be ready to harvest. The tomatoes are planted, as are some of the peppers. The corn is up and growing, and so are the bush and pole beans. Germination of cucumbers was slow, but the little plants now are beginning to run.

The garlic, shallots, and multiplying onions still look great. The two tomatilla plants each have a couple of flowers. Cosmos are up about 6 inches in a couple of places in the garden, and several borage plants have been blooming well for a while.

In the "running behind" column, I can list the planting of zucchini, melons, winter squashes, okra, sunflowers, other flowers, the rest of the peppers, and some herbs (basil! parsley!). Sweet potatoes and peanuts aren't planted yet, but they aren't late. It is just about time now for those to go into the ground.

In a "looks like trouble ahead" column, I can list the lagging eggplants that are covered up in flea beetles and a possible problem already on some of the cucumber leaves.

More Life is expected for this weekend, which means the planting might still be behind next Tuesday, even after having a three-day weekend in which to catch up!

Meanwhile, in one of those moments of craziness that seem to strike all gardeners, I ordered seeds for pink bananas, American licorice, Siberian pea shrub, goji berry, and a wild black cap raspberry. Those have all arrived arrived in the mail, and most of them have stratification requirements that will keep them from germinating anytime soon. I'm looking forward to figuring them all out.

Hope all the other gardeners out there are having fun!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Compost Contemplations

Last week was "International Compost Awareness Week," so compost was uppermost in my mind for much of the time. One major aspect that's been on my mind is that, even though my six pet bunnies add a lot of old hay and bunny manure to my compost pile every week, there still isn't enough compost for my whole garden, and my garden is not large.

I read once that the average WWII Victory Garden encompassed ~600 square feet. My vegetable growing space is just a little over half that. Remember -- Victory Gardens during WWII provided about 40% of this nation's produce at a time when that production was sorely needed. That is a huge amount of productivity!

The U.S. could do that again, if needed, but it would take a lot of compost.  Maintaining a warren of rabbits in my garage is, apparently, not the answer to the question of where all the needed compost is going to come from. You may be asking -- "why is compost needed in such large amounts?"

Part of the answer would lie in the brick-like consistency of Georgia clay in summer, or the non-absorptive properties of soils that are mostly sand.  Even for conventional/chemical gardeners, compost can improve the physical properties of very poor soils.

Gardeners working in the kinds of subdivisions in which all the soil was rearranged by giant machines before construction even began, removing the topsoil and putting it who-knows-where, will totally understand what I mean by "very poor soils." Many of us begin without any real topsoil at all!  Compost improves moisture retention, nutrient availability, and biological activity in these soils.

For organic growers, abundant compost is basic to the whole process, with the "biological activity" part being of utmost importance, since without the underground microbes and their slightly larger associates, there would be no nutrients available for plant growth.

Even beyond the productivity gains that can come from nourishing the teeming billions of lifeforms underground, yet another reason to compost may lie in the ability of that compost to help move carbon underground. In my scanning of the morning news this past week, I read a surprising headline: "First time in 800,00 years: April's CO2 levels above 400 ppm". We all knew that was coming, but it does seem a little soon.

Couple that headline with an article that I had seen through, originally published at Yale Environment 360 -- "Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight?" -- and compost is looking even more like the "black gold" that some gardeners call it, even though compost isn't specifically mentioned in the article. Instead, it mentions other practices that could help store carbon in the soil:

"...replanting degraded areas, increased mulching of biomass instead of burning, large-scale use of biochar, improved pasture management, effective erosion control, and restoration of mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses"

Much further along, the article mentions the important role of fungi in storing carbon in the soil:

"...scientists from the University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Boston University assessed the carbon and nitrogen cycles under different mycorrhizal regimens and found that plants linked with fruiting, or mushroom-type, fungi stored 70 percent more carbon per unit of nitrogen in soil."

Using composts and degradable mulches can do a lot toward welcoming the right kinds of fungi to a garden.

The article was aimed more at larger scale agricultural activities, but that doesn't mean that gardeners can't do their part to help out.  If more of us are more intentional about what happens to the carbon that flows through our lives, it certainly can't hurt.

This is my birthday month, and one of my best buddies, as an early birthday gift, took me to a book signing for Farmer D's new book, Citizen Farmers (and she bought me a copy of the book, for Farmer D to sign!). One great aspect of the book is its focus on compost. Really, all gardening should start with compost, but most garden book don't make that point so emphatically.  Farmer D lists, right in the introduction, his citizen farmer basics, and number one on the list is "Make composting a way of life." That sounds like a very good idea.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Future of Supper

Spring is finally warming up, and in a big way. I've brought in a lot of the lettuce to store in the fridge, because the upcoming several-days-in-a-row of above 85 degrees F weather is likely to make what's left in the garden turn bitter.
Peas beginning to form.

Some of the other crops, though, are approaching their most shining time in the garden. One of those crops is the peas, which are beginning to make actual peas in the several areas where they are planted.

Two of those patches will be left to make food for humans, the rest will be cut down -- some to feed to my pet bunnies (who love pea shoots), and some to turn into the soil to feed the microscopic critters underground.
Potato foliage in the foreground, Allium family crops in the back.

The foliage on the potatoes is looking good, too. The little flowers indicate that potatoes are beginning to form underground.

Over the weekend, I added more compost around the leafy stems, partly to keep the soil as cool as possible for as long as possible, and partly to add a little more depth around the stems.

In general, potatoes are more productive when soil is "hilled" around the stems of the plants. The close spacing in these beds doesn't leave much room for hilling up the nearby soil, but adding more to the top of the bed should have the same effect. At least, that's the dream!
Big basket of spinach, that cooked down to about three cups.

Strawberries under netting.
I brought in the spinach over the weekend, too. It looked like a lot of food when I packed it all into the basket to bring inside, but that whole load of leaves cooked down to only about three cups.

We divided the cooked leaves into three portions and put them in the freezer for future meals.

Joe and I had been talking last week about our version of Shepherd's Pie; when the potatoes are ready to harvest, we are going to want this spinach to make some.
Cilantro bolting to flower in the warmer days of May.

The strawberries are starting to add their bright color and flavor to meals (we had some last night). Straight from the garden, they taste like spring!

Other berries in the yard are in flower, but it will be a few more weeks before any of the brambleberries are ready for eating.
As the days have begun to warm, the cilantro has decided that it's time to finish its life cycle and put out flowers and seeds. No one is especially happy about this development (it seems early), but I will be planting seeds for more, soon.

Meanwhile, we will all just enjoy what we have. Joe and I will be using some of the larger leaves from closer to the base of each plant in some guacamole tonight, and our bunnies will be eating some of the taller flowering stems that have bolted up from the base.

There is a little trellis behind the cilantro patch that I've planted a few "Greasy Beans" underneath. When the cilantro is finally in sad enough shape that I pull it up, there will be beans twining up from behind to fill that space. In my mind, it is already beautiful.

And this last picture isn't of plants (or supper), it is of two Best Friends, Holstein and Darwin -- two of my pet bunnies. Holstein is less symmetrical than she used to be. Her face is a little lopsided, and she lists to the right when she walks. The vet said she'd had a "neurological event," which I'm interpreting to mean that she'd had a stroke. She and Darwin are usually pressed right up together, even when they are eating their bunny salad. They are happy to eat the good food that is growing in our garden!
Holstein and Darwin think everything grown in the garden is for them.

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