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.