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: