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.