Sunday, September 26, 2010

catchin' up

OK, end-of-summer travels and beginning-of-semester craziness (along with mountains of basil and sungold tomatoes!) temporarily derailed Tilthisippi blog. Today, we're going to catch up a bit.

First, a short synopsis of how the summer gardening turned out:

1. Mountains of basil were produced. We're talking pounds and pounds of the stuff. Most went into the freezer (and our mouths) as pesto, and some went onto pasta, pizza, and into spring rolls. Yum. The basil seemed to get less bitter over the course of the summer, to the point where we didn't need to put any balsamic vinegar in the pesto. We finally took out all but one of our basil plants a few weeks ago, due to basil fatigue (a person can only handle so much basil) but it is still going gangbusters.  (T notes:  it was indeed the summer of beautiful Beautiful Basil.  wow.)

2. Even bigger mountains of sungold cherry tomatoes were produced. We almost had more of these sweet little jewels than we could handle, which was a beautiful thing. Our bella rosa tomatoes made some nice fruit too, but nothing like the sungolds. Our other tomatoes (a couple different heirlooms) were busts (side note by T:  probably b/c we didn't prune them early enough... Dad, do hear me eating crow??).  All the tomatoes got hit pretty hard with Septoria leaf spot disease in late summer, and have since recovered with the help of dry weather and some copper fungicide. The sungolds and Bella Rosas are hanging heavy with a big new crop (pretty amazing how well they've continued to produce -- they were lookin' tough along about the end of August). Will they have time to ripen, or will we eat--or pickle--them green???

3. Okra, okra, and more okra. Our four okra plants have turned into trees, nearly 8 feet tall and about 4 inches in diameter at the base. As I write this, okra pods are growing seemingly an inch an hour, and we're harvesting about 2 pounds a week. Sliced into rounds and breaded and fried, roasted in the oven, or grilled, we love it to death, yes we do. We'll be sad when the first frost comes and kills it, probably next month.

Lessons learned. All in all, we were really happy with the summer gardening, and learned a lot. We ended up convinced of the virtues of our mulching system (newspaper laid down between plants and covered with leaf mulch), which really kept the weeds down and held moisture really well. Next year, we expect things to be even better: Our soil should be better (due to the continuing decomposition of all the organic matter we layered in this year, and the new compost we plan to add to the surface this winter). We plan to start earlier with our tomatoes and other summer plants. It probably won't be quite so dang hot next summer. Green beans might be tough to grow around here, if the bean leaf beetles are always as voracious as they were this summer, although edamame beans did better and we plan to try more of those. We'll be careful to not over-water our squash plants next summer, to help avoid bacterial wilt, and we'll watch early and often for squash vine borers.

But, in the meantime, we're busy launching our Fall/Winter gardening. On September 7, D-Hug and J-Ho spent a bunch of time pulling out plants, prepping the soil, and planting new seeds. In T and J's side of the plot, we left only the okra, the sungold and bella rosa tomatoes, one basil plant, one bell pepper plant (which is finally producing its first fruit since being planted in May!!!), one parsley plant, and two thyme plants. D-Hug left in some of her hot peppers and tomatoes. In the new space, here are the seeds we planted on September 7:
1. Kale (dwarf blue curled, Vate's strain)
2. Swiss chard (large ribbed dark green)
3. Beets (early wonder tall top)
4. Radishes (cherrybelle and French breakfast)
5. Arugula (some conventional and some organic heirloom from Seeds of Change)
6. Kohlrabi (early white Vienna)
I also planted a few Collard greens (Georgia hybrid) transplants bought at Home Depot.

Beet seed germination was a bit spotty and many of the plants don't seem to be very happy. Maybe it's too hot still, or maybe our soil is too acidic (beets like neutral or slightly basic soil)? The kale, arugula, and radishes came in thin in a few spots too. So, today (September 26) I planted:
1. Beets (more early wonder tall top, plus touchstone gold and flat of Egypt)
2. more kale
3. more arugula
4. more radishes

The cherrybelle radishes and some of the arugula from Sept. 7 seeding have come in really fast, and are nearly ready to harvest. We're planning on continually harvesting and re-seeding radishes every 3 weeks or so, all Fall and Winter, until it stops working or T. gets tired of chopping and eating them (not likely). Ditto for beets, on a longer cycle (pickled baby beets, anyone?).

Once the first frost hits, which should kill our okra, tomatoes, and remaining basil plant, we're planning to plant (from seeds currently on their way from Territorial Seed Co.):
1. broccolini (aka Apollo broccoli)
2. more Swiss chard (perpetual and golden)
3. more kale (Nero Di Toscana)
4. purple peacock broccoli

Once we get into frost season, we also plan to protect some of our less frost-tolerant cool-weather veggies with frost blanket material, which should help them survive lower temperatures.

One more thing: In case anyone is curious, one of the mushrooms that seems to be fruiting in many of our garden plots during the last two months belongs to a decomposer called Lepiota cepaestipes, the onion-stalk parasol. It's a common fungus on rich, decomposing organic matter. It prefers warm, moist weather and should be harmless to our plants. It's probably helping turn unfinished compost and manure into more stable organic matter, which is a good thing. Some authorities say it's edible, but others report that it gives a lot of people GI distress, so don't eat it.

OK, I think that about does it. Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 23, 2010

lost the battle

Yep.  Last night we visited our plot, and as feared, our scallop squash plant had collapsed.  Two nights earlier, we'd noticed leaves wilting, and I'd noticed it had a squash vine borer.  I cut the stem to smithereens and nailed the borer I think, but it's hard to say whether the plant died from wilt or the borer or from the injuries inflicted with the razor knife.  Nevertheless... we're squashless now.  I would never have guessed that the squash would be such a growing challenge.  Looking around the garden at other plots, I've noticed that lots of plots have squash plants that are wilted, dying, or dead.  It's tricky here I guess.

We're still enjoying our little orange 'Sungold' tomatoes -- they have been steady producers and keep getting sweeter as the summer wears on.  Our 'Bella Rosa' and 'Pruden's Purple" plants have some big fruits that are taking their sweet time to ripen... they'll probably be ready about the time we leave town I'm sure.  Do hope we get to eat some before then though.  Recently, I had a big discussion with my Dad about "pruning" tomatoes.  (Dad, Karen: are you reading??  here is where I start to eat my words.)  He asked me if we had been picking off the little "suckers" -- the leaves that form in the crooks of the main stems.  Apparently, this is good-for-nothing tissue that only sucks resources away from the fruiting stems (hence the label, "suckers").  My (dare I say professional?) opinion was that with more tissue, the plant would photosynthesize more, make more sugar, and that would be allocated to fruiting.  A good thing, right?  And besides, our 'Sungold' plants are fruiting like mad, and we've not done a thing to them.  Turns out though, one of our heirloom varieties, the 'German' something or other, is doing nothing but growing green.  No flowers, and certainly no fruits.  And recently I stumbled upon a good article from Fine Gardening about pruning tomatoes.  I learned that this pruning business can be very complicated if you let it.  This article, along with my Dad's sage advice, makes me think this is what's wrong with our German.  I suppose the next time I talk to Dad, I will reluctantly admit to him that I should have been picking off those suckers.  He's right -- at least as far as some varieties go.  Maybe we'll make it out there this weekend and hack away at that plant and see if we can't get it to flower before football season.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

booty kickin' basil

Well, it is in fact our Year of Beautiful Basil.  This is where we were just about a month ago:
Now look:

We've got a bumper crop!  Must say, I'm pretty happy with it.  Although it's kind of tough and has turned bitter.  Apparently, if you let it flower, that what it does: turns bitter.  Some of it *started* to flower, but I picked off the budding buds right away.  So I wonder if there's something about the heat or the location or what have you.  No mind.  We just add a little vinegar and it perfectly complements the local heirloom tomatoes we've been buying at our farmer's market.

We've got some slicing tomatoes on the vine, but they aren't ripe yet.  At home in our buckets, we had two tomatoes that were nearly ripe when we discovered they had rot, which is pretty gross.  The rot is a calcium problem, and the product Stop Rot quickly remedies the situation (thx Buffy for the tip!), but here in our town, the hard part is finding the stuff.  We're working on it.  Fortunately though, we don't have this problem in our garden plot.

Check out this hornworm:

What a fabulous creature!  That is when they're not defoliating your tomato plants.  We actually haven't had any trouble with these guys... or at least haven't noticed any defoliation of consequence.  J. does a great job of searching and destroying (and also taking pictures!).

Our lone squash plant is constantly under siege.  Whether it's squash bugs (here's what the eggs look like -- these guys are always mating it seems): 

or those damn vine borers (see previous post here), or some kind of disease (bacterial wilt).  We harvested the large fruit shown here, but that little one rotted off for some reason:
and last night, we noticed some leaves were wilted, so I'm concerned that we might lose this plant to bacterial wilt like we did our other plant.  This is the culprit:

The SPOTTED CUCUMBER BEETLE!!!!  Here, it's feeding on one of our sungold tomatoes, but it likes to eat all kinds of things, and as it's moving about sticking it's little teeth into plant tissue, it's spreading bacteria.  Buggers.

The critters are a real challenge in the community garden.  I think we've done pretty well in protecting our plants but you really can't let up.  The southern community gardener must be vigilant.

All righty.... off to eat some basil and little orange cherry tomatoes.

Monday, July 12, 2010

bean plants need sun

Guess that shouldn't come as a surprise.  I fully expected our bush green beans to grow like weeds, which was my experience in Idaho oh-so-many-years-ago, and so figured they (along with the edamame soybeans) would be fine planted *next* to the tomatoes, which eventually became *in-between* the tomatoes (once we planted a second cohort of tomato seedlings), which eventually became *under* the tomatoes.  Both half-rows of beans kind of languished... we covered them with a lightweight floating row cover to protect them from bean leaf beetles, which worked as it should against the insects -- and even though it's lightweight enough to allow sunlight to penetrate, it must limit the light somewhat.  When we uncovered the plants, they were pest free, but kinda small, and no match for the tomatoes.  Eventually too, the leaf beetles and aphids and some kind of other malaise got in there and so we're not really rolling in the beans.  So far, two pickings has yielded this:

They're nice, but just not very abundant.  And the edamame are kinda small....  Last weekend then, J. pulled up the soybeans, which is okay, b/c in a sunnier part of our plot, we've got second plantings of both kinds of beans going.  Once germinated, we covered the bush beans with the row cover again, but let the soybeans fend for themselves, finding that they seem to be less "bugged" (they are covered in hairs, which may deter the critters).  That turned out to be an interesting test -- the soybeans today look FABulous, but in contrast -- horrors! when we uncovered the green beans -- ew -- infested with aphids. (Note to selves:  introduce some aphid predators to the little microcosm next time.)   That many aphids is not unlike dealing with squash vine borers.  So gross.  The beans were holding their own, but didn't look very healthy.  J. spent some time washing off the thousands of aphids with water, and we hoped the plants would perk up. The aphids seem to be making a comeback, but in fact, the bush beans seem to be doing better.  I like eating beans all kinds of ways, but my intent with this year's crop was to pickle a bunch.  Might have to pickle next year, that's if we can figure out how to grow green beans in the south.

Last weekend we launched an attack on the fire ants, and guess what?  we won!  They had taken to eating our okra (see earlier post)...   J. first blasted the ants off the pods with water, then dried off the stem base of each plant and applied Tanglefoot (a sticky goo that traps any insect it comes into contact with, targeting those that crawl up the plant from the ground), and then sprinkled instant grits around each plant.  Yes, that's right.  Instant grits. We watched in amazement as the ants set about collecting the grains and taking them back to the colony (which is apparently in our plot).  Not sure how the grits work, but we've pieced together a hypothesis that the grits swell up back in the colony and maybe clog it up, making it inhabitable.  Alternatively, we've read that the workers feed the grits to the queen and then she explodes.  A lovely thought.  Whatevs.  We won.  Yesterday we did see a few stragglers, but nothing worth another deployment of our secret weapon. (Actually, it's not SO secret - we heard about anti-ant grits from other community gardeners.)  If we must, though, we've still got half a box of grits.  Nobody in the south is safe from the grits.

Friday, July 2, 2010

pretty pretty

We're harvesting!  Sungold tomatoes are on, and wow.  do we have gobs of basil.  Remember how dismayed I was initially about our basil?  All for naught.  Or actually, the concern was probably warranted; it did after all prompt action, and the basil we have now is the direct result of that action (yay! for fish emulsion).  We've been eating it fresh on tomatoes, in salads, and last night on pizza.  Nothing says summer like fresh basil on locally grown maters.  The okra is also coming on, although we don't get a lot at one time... one thing that surprised me is how quickly the fruits grow -- didn't take long for these pods to be nearly overgrown:

Yeah, they were a little tough, but it was fun eating them anyway.  Growing and eating okra.  We are in deep!

As much as basiled tomatoes scream summer, so do pests and disease.  We've been pretty lucky, but the war is on now.  Normally, I don't mind the insects.  As long as we can all agree to share equitably, then I'm happy to let you go, but when you are aggressive and stinging, and ruining my harvest, I must say, I'm with J., who is merciless with the herbivores.  The fire ants!  they apparently love okra.  They chew little holes in the pods, and then set up shop.  What's most dispiriting about these insects is that they are so hard to get rid of -- if we had a mound in our garden, that would be one thing (we've heard that instant grits works to suffocate the mound or something), but it's not clear where these guys are even coming from.  I guess that'll be our first order of work this weekend -- look for their home and set about destroying it.

Our second garden challenge this week:  we lost one of our two scallop squash plants.  The entire plant! and not to squash vine borer either.   Fortunately, the loss came AFTER we harvested these beauties!

Lovely, aren't they?  So the best I can figure is that the plant was infected with some kind of wilt, maybe bacterial wilt, which is spread by the spotted cucumber beetle, whom we have definitely seen on the plant before.  We went day before yesterday and the plant was wilting.  I thought it was water stressed, and hoped it would perk up readily with a drink.  Last night though, it had nearly completely collapsed.  I looked for evidence of a vine borer but the stem was solid, so convinced this was disease, I decided to pull it up.  The big tap root came out very easily and was lacking root hairs -- not sure if this is normal or not for a squash plant (some plants don't have a lot of root hairs -- carrots for instance), but it seems quite abnormal to me -- root hairs are key in collecting water and nutrients from the soil... without those, well, it just doesn't work as well.  With a little research, I found that I should have checked for a gummy ooze from the root; apparently bacterial wilt causes the water-conducting tissue to secrete a sticky white goo, which impedes water uptake.  (Wish I had looked for the ooze!)  I also learned though that wilts take some time to strike and that they often do when the soil stays moist and air temperatures and humidity are high. Our soil holds water pretty well, thanks to the clay content and our mulching system.  Couple that with a recent extended period of hot weather and serious humidity, and yes, disease is a likely culprit.  End result is that we're left to depend on our lone squash plant that I saved last week from a borer.  Lesson learned:  be more careful with the water, destroy the spotted cucumber beetle, and maybe look for a more disease resistant scallop squash variety for next year. 

Garden on!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

killdeer strife

When the killdeer made a nest in the garden way back in the spring, Susie did a little research and found that in Mississippi, these birds have been known to lay as many as 6 clutches in a season.  It appears now that they may try what seems to be so many times because their success rate is generally low.  The last time I posted a killdeer picture, our pair had started their second nest in the garden and laid two eggs in it.  A few days after that, Oxford was bombarded with a heavy rainfall (actually, a deluge, people said).  We were out of town for that, but when I was at the garden a few days later, I looked for the nest and it was empty/gone.  My guess is that the rain washed the eggs away.  Unsuccessful attempt #1.

A few weeks later, the birds set up a third nest in yet in another plot, unfortunately one that hadn't been worked yet.  It was quite weedy, which might have otherwise been a good place for a nest, but wouldn't you know it -- the plotholder went out and tilled the plot the very next day.  Tough timing.  Unsuccessful attempt #2.

At last Saturday's workday, Susie found a fourth nest with four eggs.  Not in the garden anywhere, but still within the fenced area of the bus depot next to the garden.  (To call it a bus depot makes it sound very busy, but it's just the overnight parking lot for our city buses.  The nest location was out in the open, but not in line of any foot or vehicle traffic whatsoever.)  Susie flagged it to make sure it would be apparent to humans if necessary, and all Saturday morning, I enjoying looking over to see the parents trading off the guard duty.  The next morning, though, the eggs were gone.  Unsuccessful attempt #3.  Predators methinks.
No wonder they lay so many clutches.  I guess if you're going to have a nest ON THE GROUND, OUT IN THE OPEN (really?), then you better be prepared to lay a fair number of eggs because they just aren't very protected.  It made me think a little about all the different birds in the world and all the different egg-laying strategies, which I don't think I've really ever consciously contemplated.  Hmmmm...... I guess the bright side is that it's just eggs the birds are losing -- much better than a big ol' hawk swooping in and taking one of the babies.  Hope they try yet again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

summer's here

I harvested two Sungold tomatoes from one of our potted plants this morning.  Last night, I saw that there were three or four in our garden plot that were ripe.  If I were a better person, I'd have offered them as part of the grand opening, but I'm pretty greedy when it comes to these guys.  Not to mention, how far could three little cherry tomatoes go in a crowd?  So I'll head out again tonight and add them to the stash on the counter.  A small handful, they'll be perfect with some cheese and avocado on a corn tortilla.  It's summer now.

perfect event for the solstice

Some dedicated plotholders worked hard to hold a garden grand opening yesterday, on the Solstice.  It came together perfectly!  It's such a neat idea, and one that I would never have had the energy to pursue --but Forrest had a vision and with help from a group of dedicated volunteers (Anne and Buffy come to mind), made it a reality.  Forrest was able to get a few local shops to provide food and drinks (thanks the Main Squeeze, Olivia's Food Emporium, and McAlister's Deli), the Oxford Park Commission put up multiple tents, brought out tables and chairs (and then put them all away for us), and the Porch Rockers (including Forrest's mom and uncle) provided live music (they're really good).  A number of gardeners were even willing to donate fresh harvest (squash, beets, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes, and basil).  From 6 until 8, people toured the garden, noshed on tasty food, enjoyed the tunes, and generally sat around and chatted.  So cool!  Here are a few pictures I was able to make myself take:

Best Solstice evening ever!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

ups and downs

J and I were gone for a week at the end of May.  Separation from the garden sometimes is a good thing.  Not so if it's killer hot, but at the end of May, it worked out really well for us.  We returned to find our kale ready to harvest -- we cooked it up very simply (sauteed in olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, covered with a bit of water added to soften it up, a clove of minced garlic stirred in at the end, and then finished with a splash of white wine vinegar), and ate it with pasta or as a side to bbqd chicken.  Yum!  We left two plants to keep growing; not sure how it's going to taste at this point, but we'll find out later this week.

The week away led to serious disappointment WRT our basil.  To start, I'd had whole slew of healthy seedlings, so many that I planted some in the garden, some here at home in a big pot, and even gave some away.  I had big plans to make this my Year of Beautiful Basil.  I've never had good luck with it, and hearing other gardeners say it grows like weeds for them, has made me all the more determined.  And all the more sour as I struggle with it.  First, the seedlings seemed to suffer some transplant shock -- or maybe they simply weren't hardened to the outdoors -- whatever the cause, they lost leaves and turned light green in short order.  I really hoped that they would have gotten over that and then grown like crazy while we were gone, but no.  They all looked the same actually.  Meanwhile, other gardeners have GIANT basil plants, and yes, they do seem to be growing like weeds.  I decided they needed some quick nitrogen and so gave them (and our bell peppers, which are another sad, frustrating story) all a dose of fish emulsion.  HEY!  it worked!

We are now on track for my Year of Beautiful Basil.  The ones here at home are also growing much better; we even harvested a few leaves today to chiffonade for a sliced tomato snack this afternoon.  Muy delicioso!  Not our own tomato (but from a local grower), although soon enough.  Our tomato plants are growing up and making us proud.  They like it hot, and there's been no shortage of heat lately.  Trouble now is that our first planting of beans aren't as big as we expected and they're starting to be the understory to a rapidly closing tomato canopy:

You see our edamame soybeans in front and bush green beans in back.  They're producing, but the fruits aren't quite ready for harvest yet.  A little strategic tie work is called for and on tomorrow's agenda.

Another Up:  our okra.  When we got home, we noticed what looked like little okra fruits.  I thought it was weird that I hadn't seen the flowers, but then reasoned with myself that they must be inconspicuous flowers so I just hadn't seen them.  Then another gardener friend told me how okra blossoms are super beautiful.  Really.  Hmmm... next trip to the garden, sure enough.  Turns out we (I) misinterpreted the flower buds as fruits.  Look at this:

I don't think my image does the flower justice.  In person, it's so soft and velvety looking.  Just beautiful.  The other thing my gardener friend said is that her plants grew to a gazillion feet tall.  Just hoping for more like 4 ft in our plot.

The insects are full on all throughout the Community Garden.  Our neighbors have been really good with daily search and destroy missions and their plot is Fabulous, but despite their diligence, they do have a lot of insects.  On one hand, that they're our neighbors then is not so good for us, but on the other hand, they keep us updated about who's moved in and what to look for and do.  Started with the bean leaf beetles (we have been using row cover to defend against), then the aphids (of which we have yet to see hardly any), and then the squash vine borers.  Horrors!  The borers are the worst!  I'm keeping a close eye on our scalloped squash, and so far so good.  We found out today though, that our garden-mates' zucchini wasn't as lucky.  They've got something like eight plants, and all of them were hosting borers:

OMG these guys are icky.  The whiteness.  The size.  The frass.  Ew.  The damage.  At first glance, the zucchini looked great, but at the stem, well, this critter does some serious damage.  Fortunately, our plot neighbors knew what to do and helped us with a search and destroy/salvage mission.  It was gross.  Really gross.  The stink, the damage, the destroying -- so very unpleasant.  We tried to save the plants, but don't know how successful we'll be.  Basically, you cut into the stem, find the critters, pull them out of the nice little home they've created for themselves (so much work!), and then cut em in half.  Then you bury what's left of the stem and hope it roots again.  This is the how our SVB-101 ended today:

Yeah.  That wilted plant is pretty much a goner.  But the others, well, we'll see tomorrow how they took the surgery.

Other bad critters we've seen now:  squash bugs and their eggs, little green caterpillars on the tomatoes, cucumber beetles (at least two, maybe three, different species), and a little black beetle that we think is another kind of leaf beetle.  While we see these pests in the garden, we've seen relatively few of them on our own plants so far.  We've hypothesized (we're scientists) that it's because we have a healthy spider population living in our leaf mulch and they're eating a lot.  We'll see whether that explanation holds over time.

All told, things are going fairly well in our little plot:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

more okra

J and I planted okra last weekend.  After extensive searching a couple of weeks ago, I ended up at Home Depot and bought a little peat pot with four fragile okra seedlings growing in it.  (An aside:  not a fan of buying gardening stuff from this megastore--esp. when we have local vendors--and *certainly* not a fan of anything peat -- peat is a precious resource and is harvested from some pretty sensitive ecosystems; see, "Environmental and Ecological Issues" for more details.)  I was quite dismayed when a few days later, I found what seemed to be sturdier okra seedlings at our local Farmer's Market Store.  Didn't buy any then, because, of course, I didn't need them by that time.  Our little seedlings grew taller and (I thought) stronger under the grow lights for a good 10 days and then last Saturday, we transplanted them.  I separated the four little seedlings (even though I'm supposed to be able to just pop the peat pot into the soil) and carefully placed each one in their own little hole.  (Okra gets BIG and needs space)  Almost immediately, it was clear that they were stressed.  But we hoped for the best.  Sure enough -- by Tuesday three of the four were dead.  D.E.A.D.  So yesterday, I went to our local Farmer's Market Store to buy the better okra, and of course.  They were all gone.  Instead, I found even bigger seedlings at another local vendor, the Garden Center.  Here, the seedlings come two to a *plastic* pot.  Today, I transferred the two to the same hole and decided to let them fight it out.  Next week, I'll have J pick the better of each and clip the weaker.  I have no stomach for that.

Also, today, I bought another heirloom tomato plant, the "German" I think it's called.  Last year, we bought a couple of heiroloom tomato fruits at the farmer's market from a woman named Linda (known for growing high quality, specialty fruits and veggies) and I can honestly say they were the BEST tomatoes I think I've ever tasted.  If I recall correctly, they were this "German" variety.  (I'm hopeful anyway.)  I decided to buy another tomato plant, because, being the clutz that I've become, I snapped off at the soil, one of our better tomato plants by carelessly dragging the hose around.  Frustrating.  I left it in the ground because the stem snapped so cleanly, and I propped it back up so quickly, that I'm hoping it will survive.  When I went out later, it didn't look any worse for the wear... so, who knows?

We covered our beans up with row cover to protect them from bean leaf beetles.  I'm planning on planting a few more bean seeds tomorrow, and then I think our garden plot is set. Today at home, I planted a gardenia in a pot, a couple of Confederate jasmine in the trellised planter boxes, a couple more tomatoes in buckets, and then six basil seedlings, a spearmint and some lemon grass in a long planter box.  I'm nearly done with all my spring planting!

There was a work day at the garden on Tuesday night this week.  I love love love this community and can't say how much I enjoy seeing all these neat people coming together to Contribute.  Hard to believe that just a few months ago, our site was just a vast lot of grass.

**Last weekend, the garden sponsored the last of our spring seminar series (Anne M. did a really great job of putting the series together).  Our speaker, Kristin Lamberson from the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, took the opportunity to educate our group about biodiversity.  She started with a picture of a lawn that she called the "green dead zone."  She made the point very well that turfgrass simply doesn't support much life.  In contrast, she showed a single flowering plant and then described the extensive community of critters that make a living on that plant or on the critters that live on that plant.  She very effectively made the case for appreciating all kinds of life (even mosquitoes).  She's my kind of people.**

Indeed, we've taken that dead zone and created the opportunity for all kinds of diversity.  Check it out:

It's really something else. Gosh it was such a perfect evening too. What a great experience. J worked on putting together cedar logs to make the children's plots (there are 9 of those in the center of the garden -- hard to see them, but they're right in the middle of the picture below),

and I worked with Frankie to hang wire fencing to make an arbor to support a native honeysuckle that should grow up and over. Check out Frankie here, kicking wire ass atop that ladder:

Other helpers worked on the Community Harvest plots, planting or enclosing the plots with cedar logs. One woman (I wish I knew her name!) spent the entire evening weeding the welcoming space at the garden entrance that will eventually be a showcase of Echinacea and other flowering perennials. A few plots in the garden have yet to be worked at all and are becoming quite weedy, a large one near us in fact. Fortunately, our garden manager, Angela, is following the situation carefully and even weeded (by hand!) the large plot near us on Tuesday night -- a very good sam thing to do.

A parting shot (although as of today, there are two):

Monday, May 10, 2010

still at it (us, and the killdeer too!)

J and I were at the garden all Saturday afternoon.  We decided to explore our soil layers a little bit and decided our manure layer was stagnant and somehow involved in the poor growth of our little plants.  We did in fact cut our losses with the beets (see them at the bottom of the picture below -- this is after 30+days!) and one of my little radish plots, and so in that freed-up space and in the parts of the plots we hadn't planted yet, we dug down and mixed the layers of manure, straw, and leaves with the surface soil/compost mixture.  Our original strategy may have been better if we'd layered last fall, in preparation for planting after winter, but not really ideal for immediate planting.  That said, the leaves on our kale are starting to be big enough for eating.  Probably next week, we'll harvest them all and have a nice dinner of sauteed kale with garlic and a splash of white wine vinegar.

On Saturday, we transplanted MORE tomatoes -- a couple of Sun Gold, a couple of Bella Rosa, a couple of Pruden's Purple (heirloom) along with four okra plants (which did NOT handle the transplanting well) and something like 12 basil plants that I started from seed.  In each little hole, we added some leaf compost as well as our worm castings, as we did with our previous transplantings.  Afterwards, I came across some information that suggested worm castings are really HOT (nitrogen-wise).  We pondered then that maybe each of our transplants were suffering from a nitrogen overdose.  A little more googling led to a rejection of that hypothesis; apparently worm castings aren't any hotter than regular compost.  We both are confident that our soil is better now -- hopefully it translates to good growth in all our plantings.

We haven't had much trouble with insects, although our green bean plants are taking a bit of a hit from what is probably bean beetles; we planned to go out yesterday and lay down some row cover to protect them, but it's been raining raining raining.

On another note:  the killdeer have started on another nest!  In a different plot than last time -- now in plot 33 (if I'm remembering correctly).  We watched one of the parents (probably the papa) stand guard while the other dug out a little depression and then layered some small stones on the bottom.  Then they scampered away.  That's when we got a glimpse of what they were making.  Those two are BUSY.

Since we don't have moms in town to hang out with on Mother's Day, yesterday morning, we ventured out into the county to look for birds.  J picked the Yocona River, south of Oxford, toward Water Valley.  We discovered the Springdale Wildlife Management Area, which apparently is about 600 acres of wetlands that provides habitat for migrating water birds.  We came across an area hosting a big population of great egrets and a sizable cohort of black vultures, and got a great look at the common yellowthroat (the little black-masked guy up there, with the yellow throat), who was perched atop a fence post, singing away.  Very cute.  The morning was gray and kind of dreary, but the light was PERFECT for the vibrant blues of the indigo bunting and the blue grosbeak.  We happened upon a little patch of habitat hosting a whole bunch of indigo bunting:

It was nice to get out of Oxford to commune with nature a little -- I haven't done that in a long time -- and it was especially nice to become more familiar with our county's natural places.  Haven't done much of that at all.

 Last week, J and I had a memory clash when we were trying to figure out how long it had been since we'd done our first planting.  Me saying that it had been a long time, and our plants should be bigger by now.  Him saying that it wasn't as long as I'd was guessing (always the optimist he is).  Our little blog came in very handy to settle the disagreement -- all that just to acknowledge that this post is pretty journal-y... thanks for hanging in there!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

rough start

Whew! it's been pretty crazy here lately. The weather is just nutty! No water shortage for sure.... couple the rain with some high temps (upper 80s) this week, we're hoping to see some G-R-O-W-T-H in our plot. For crying out loud. I can't believe how stunted our little plants are. We've decided we need to try something different with our soil. We'll cut our losses with the beets and probably the radishes.... although look at this! Our first "harvest!" We pulled this one just out of curiosity. The radish growth is so oddly uneven that I decided to see what, if anything, was going on underground. I initially regretted pulling this cutie, but then was so impressed with its flavor and texture, that it renewed my faith in our ability to grow table-worthy vegetables. So the oddness of it all is this: of about 60 seedlings, like four are at this stage of growth. The rest seem to all be arrested at the first-true leaf stage. So very very strange. Honestly, I don't know what to make of it. I've decided I need to learn more about the effects of temperature on plant development. I've just cast off all the brassicas as "cool-weather" plants and used that to explain our poor growth but they must not all be the same. Must. learn. more.

We've decided that our bed-preparation system of layers must be the problem. Cuz see this?WTH? our plants are actually about as big as they were when we planted them. We are getting new growth, but with the kale for example, the new leaves replace leaves that die. So no net positive increase in biomass it seems. Ho hum.

As usual: we bought a little 3" cilantro. Planted it. It didn't really grow that much. We didn't need any so we never harvested any stems. Now it's bolting. Perfect. It always goes that way with me and cilantro.

I really wonder how gardeners accumulate knowledge that helps them to be better gardeners with delicious results down the road. The secrets, they elude me.

Okay, admittedly, it's just been our first 6 weeks. We'll get the hang of it. We'll make our little plot work. We will not be deterred! We've got a bunch of basil seedlings, some okra, and some more tomatoes to transplant -- so we'll just keep on. It's supposed to cool off a bit, so this weekend will be a really nice time to be in the garden.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Update: Baby Killdeer

The little killdeer eggs hatched last Thursday afternoon. By the next day, the babies were off the nest and everyone was out, doing what they do. J was gone over the weekend, so I visited the garden on Friday and again on Sunday by myself, to try and catch sight of those little birds. No luck. Hadn't heard from anyone else that they'd seen them either. I feared the worst, as I tend to do. J read that the babies leave the nest right away and head off to find their own food -- presumably though, the parents stay close to defend their little ones from evil-doers (like the Cooper's Hawk we spotted flying above yesterday). Well, good news people! J and I stopped at the garden last night, and of course, it took his keen birding skills to find our little feathered friends. We saw two of the four -- sorry, no pics of those -- scurrying around looking for dinner. The parents were indeed nearby, calling to each other about the predator in the area.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Can you see them?

These little ones hatched just hours before we snapped the picture. The mama did her best to distract us away from her nest, feigning a broken wing. We dutifully followed her to reinforce this strategy that has worked for her species for however many bazillion years. One little guy was already off the nest and running around. These three were still staying put though. Isn't it amazing how inconspicuous they are? While this nesting site seemed a little suspect at first, the benefit is now pretty clear.

Oh so sweet.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bring on the heat

We spent a chunk of time on Sunday at our garden plot... such a lovely day and way to spend it. We transplanted tomato plants I'd started from seed a few weeks ago ('Sungold' and 'Bella Rosa'), along with some red bell pepper plants picked up at a local nursery. Now at least half our plantings are in sync with the above-normal temperatures -- except then temperatures dropped back to normal for a few days (figures). So then we decided to add a Wall O'Water to a couple of the maters to create a little microclimate for them. Kinda silly in Mississippi, I know. These are the kinds of things that Idahoan gardeners use (notice the snow in the picture) to get the growing going in May. Still, J's hesitation gave way to my argument to run a little experiment. Not much replication, but what the heck. Can't really hurt. It if does, we'll find out soon enough. We also planted edamame, green bean, and patty pan squash seeds on Sunday.

J started worm composting at our house last summer. He dug a big container into the ground (to protect the worms against the winter cold and the summer hot) and goes out and feeds them our kitchen waste every so often. They're kicking butt! We used some of the castings with our transplants and then we even brought some out to add to our plot.

The more normal temperatures we had at the beginning of the week seemed to be good for our kale, arugula, and chard. We've got new leaves, although the plants don't seem to be getting much bigger. My radishes look okay (in the pic below)... at least the second leaves are looking green and strong. The beets, well.. they're still teeny tiny.

Sunday was a very nice day to be at the garden. Other people thought so too! During the course of two+ hours, we saw five or six other plot holders come and go. One plot holder is doing a great service to the garden, installing above-ground spigots near each water box. That, along with being able to leave the hoses out now since the gates all have locks now, makes it much less trouble to water the plots. The easier it is to water, the better for sure. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our mulching strategy (newsprint+leaves) is working to keep the soil pretty moist.

Grow little plants, grow!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

oh, okay

Yeah! several days of +70 degrees, the last two +80. Summer seems to have arrived already. (This is more like a twitter thing than a blog post. excuse me.)

Monday, April 12, 2010


It's currently 81 degrees here, if you can believe that. P&D planted tomatoes and peppers over the weekend, thinking they were tempting fate, putting in those tender plants nearly a whole week before the frost-free date. Uh, no worries there. In fact, I think it was us who tempted fate by planting kale and arugula in mid-March. Who in their right mind does that in the south? Westerners and Yankees, that's who. I'm already writing off our first venture here and planning for the fall, when we'll direct seed and enjoy a first harvest in late January or early February. There. I guess I've convinced myself to be optimistic despite our first setback. On to the summer vegetables!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

in living color

Even if largely just two colors: green and (shades of) brown...

Here you can see the salvaged cedar we used to border our plot. We're thinking that, over time, the soil of our plots will build up to match the height of the border. Our plot partners, D&P, have a variety of materials on hand that we can consider using to complete the inner borders. In the background, behind the fence, you can see a long line of soil that is characteristic of northern MS: clayey.

Above is a close-up of the portion we've planted. Kale on the left, chard at the top right, one of the thyme plants is visible if you direct your attention to the edge closest to you, just left of center. The little dots on either side of the parsley (right lower side) are radish seedlings! (hint: click on the pic to see better) The beet seedlings aren't visible here, but they're there, in that big bare spot in the middle. The weird pattern on the surface comes from our mulching around the bigger seedlings to keep down weeds, and not yet where we planted seeds. Once the radish and beet seedlings are big enough, we'll mulch there too. Check out the community garden mascot:

Precious. Even when she's screaming or acting all big because you've gotten too close. Mama killdeer is sitting on four eggs -- caught sight of them when she was off the nest last week (no worries, either she--or Papa--was nearby and ready to defend at the drop of a hat). Can't wait to see the little birds, which should hatch out in about another week or two. J told me that killdeer like to nest in open areas that are gravely or sandy, like on baseball diamonds. In fact, our garden site used to be a baseball diamond. Made me wonder if this pair had been nesting here for a long time, and when we moved in, well, they just went ahead and did what they've always done. Glad the lot of us is able to accommodate. Last weekend, J taught a group of scouts about these beautiful creatures, as well as about gardening, when the pack was on site to help in the garden. It has since been reported that at the end of the day, a number of the little guys inquired about getting plots. Good job, J.!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The awesome thing about J being an academic and having his own lab space is that he has a "soil" room with potting soil and fluorescent lights on a timer. Comes in VERY handy this time of year. Even though I understand the process of plant reproduction and development, putting a tiny little seed in some soil and watching a little green thing emerge is always exciting. That little bit of vibrant color against the brownness is kind of mind-blowing. What fabulous design! A little packet of nutrients swells up with a little bit of water, and voila! new life. See?

The problem with starting plants from seeds is that a packet comes with a gazillion seeds. Geez. we really only need 10 or so. I showed considerable restraint this year with the tomato seeds but we're still well-endowed. Funny thing is that we went and ordered three other kinds of tomatoes (heirloom varieties). Not sure what we were thinking there. Whatevs. Guess we'll have some to share if we run out of space. We're on track to have a whole bunch of basil plants too; if these grow like all the other basil I've ever tried to grow, then we should have enough for a batch of pesto and maybe a salad -- I've never had much luck with it.

Won't be long now before we hit the frost free date -- in go these little guys, plus seeds for patty pan squash, beans (green bush and edamame), maybe lemongrass.

The weather has been silly hot here this week. Like 80 abnormal degrees. You can't grow kale and radishes in that kind of heat! Fortunately, it's cooled a little today after a big storm blew through last night, so maybe our little plants have a fighting chance. Sure get why farmers pay so much attention to the weather.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Getting going and already catching up

Hi Y'all. So, it's official--we're blogging. Here, T and J will chronicle the trials, tribulations, triumphs (and joys, jubilations, and juxtapositions) of their efforts to grow yummy food at the Oxford Community Garden. In our favor: Lots of sun, lots of heat, lots of moisture, and a nice long growing season. Working against us: The bugs and the fungi, which also love the heat and the moisture, along with the clayiest, stingiest, poorest-draining soil you can imagine. Let the games begin. Hopefully, the collective power of the OCGA blogosphere can help us all make fewer mistakes and grow a better tomato.

With this first post, we're going to get caught up, with a reverse-chronological account of our activities since the shovel first hit the first chunk of clay:

April 3-4, 2010. Always the good news first: Beet seeds are germinating! J & T used cedar half-logs to line the outside edge of the plot, and added some more soil/compost/manure to the edges to fill it out. Also planted a second round of radish seeds today. Added a layer of newspaper and then mulched with leaves, all around the kale, chard, dill, parsley, and arugula plants. Did some general community garden maintenance by adding woodchips to thinning areas of the paths in the northwest zone of the garden. Momma Killdeer is still patiently sitting on her four eggs. Other birds noted today at the garden: Black Vulture, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren. So many “Northerns” in such a Southern place.

April 2, 2010. In J & T’s plot: Radish seeds are germinating! Also: J thinks he found a cucumber beetle eating our kale. It got squished (by J; T is not a fan of killing, even if it's better for our harvest). Our first insect pest met an untimely death, so hopefully word will get around that our plot is a tough place to make a living as a pest. More cucumber beetles were seen eating dandelion pollen/nectar in the nearby field.

J helped Marie and some parents corral a big group of Cub Scouts at the garden today, and gave tours to small groups of the little rugrats. We hope some of them learned something about gardens, compost, the smell of thyme, and the Killdeer nest in one of the garden plots. The scouts and their parents were a big help in piling leaves and straw around the border of the garden, and in moving a bunch of soil into the future blueberry patch.

March 27, 2010. First day of planting! In future years, we hope to start a bunch of things from seed, well ahead of time, but this first year it’s a bit off-the-cuff. T & J planted one of our two plots with kale sprouts from Frank & Liz’s Farmer’s Market store, and chard sprouts, parsley, dill, arugula, & thyme from the Garden Center. All of the holes for these sprouts got a handful of worm compost from J’s backyard worm bin, plus a handful of alfalfa pellets (pet food type) for a nitro boost. We also planted a row of beet seeds and a small square of radish seeds. Now we’re crossing our fingers. Plan to check on the plot every couple of days, watering when needed and watching for bugs and weeds. We also ordered some more seeds for warm-weather plants like tomatoes and green beans, and some row-cover material to help keep pests off some of the short-stature brassicaceous plants.

March 20, 2010. First day working on our plot at the community garden. T, J, and P prepped the plots as follows: 1. Used shovels to skim off a layer of weeds and turn them over. 2. Laid a thin layer of newspaper to help keep the weeds down, wetting the newspaper as we went along to keep it from blowing away. Could’ve probably used a thicker layer of newspaper. 3. Covered that with a layer of straw. 4. Covered that with a layer of aged manure (cow?). 5. Covered that with a layer of aged, shredded leaves. 6. Covered that with a 1:1 mixture of nice black compost and “topsoil” (red, sandy, poor soil). Whether we've got an adequate layer of soil is TBD, but we're banking on rapid decomp of our leaf layer. But next year, watch out!

We divided our 16’ by 16’ plot into four 7.5’ by 7.5’ squares, with a foot-wide straw path in between. Gonna need to add at least one stepping stone in the middle of each square for easier weeding, pruning, etc. P & D get two squares, and J & T get two squares, but we plan to do lots of helping each other with watering, bug patrol, etc.

So far, so good.