Monday, June 25, 2012

First garlic harvest

I walked through the garden today to see if I needed to water anything. Considering how dry it's been, the soil was moist to the touch under the thick hay mulch. I looked up to see a few of my co-workers taking photos with something that looked suspiciously like garlic. I went over to see what the excitement was about, and indeed, they were ooohing and aaaahing over a lovely crown of garlic newly plucked from the soil. I offered to take a photo of the three of them with their camera, and went back over to my garlic stand.

What was under the soil? What did my crowns look like? I couldn't wait, so I got a little hand trowel and dug up a crown.
Oh man, it was huge! I mean, I had no idea what I'd pull out of the ground, and the size of this "duganski" crown surprised me.
The crown is nearly three inches wide, and it's just asking to be eaten. While garlic needs to cure for long-term storage, I couldn't wait to see what was inside.
The crown after cutting off the top, roots and peeling back the first few outer layers.
The crown after peeling off all the outer layers.
About this garlic - Duganski, ordered from Territorial Seed Company. Planted in October under heavy mulch. Pulled mulch aside in March. Fertilized twice with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable 8-4-4 Plant Food. This crown pulled on June 25, 2012.

You can learn more about how to prepare garlic for long-term storage at this great video. I'm going to take this guy's advice and dig one crown a week to see how they are doing - I want to maximize size while getting them out of the ground before the outer skins begin to disintegrate, compromising long-term storage. 

Please share your garlic stories here; when do you pull your garlic out, how do you prep and store it, and what's your favorite varieties for growing in northern climates?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Learning where our food comes from

One of the things I love about my two 10x10-foot community garden plots is I know exactly where my food comes from. I know about the seeds or plants I put in the ground, the soil and compost I plant them in, and the fertilizer and organic pest management products I use. But as intensely and densely as I garden these plots, they don't produce enough food for our summer vegetable consumption, nor do I grow as much variety as we like to eat.

Enter our community-supported agriculture (CSA) box of vegetables from Tipi Produce near Evansville, Wis. We've been members of this CSA for five years, and love the long season of fresh veggies, the variety and the quantity (which we share with another couple). After five years of membership, Jay and I finally went down to see "our farm" for the summer tour and pea-pick. I was more interested in the tour than the peas, and took a few photos to share.

Co-owner Steve Pincus started the tour at the pea patch (just behind him). Steve began farming in 1975 and Beth Kazmar joined the operation in 1999. They purchased this farm in 2001. They chose this particular farm because it has sandy soil that warms quickly in spring and allows them to get an early start on the growing season. As a result, the CSA begins weeks earlier than others.

Steve amends the soil with a combination of leaves and fully-composted manure that comes from off the farm, and growing cover crops such as hairy vetch and rye. The cover crops are cut and tilled into the soil, and left to decomposed for about a month before a new vegetable crop is planted.

Irrigation is vital to healthy crops, and being able to grow crops quickly to allow for successive plantings. The reel at left feeds a overhead irrigation "gun" that is slowly reeled in using pressure from the water that irrigates the fields. The farm also uses drip irrigation (didn't take a photo of that). Imagine plants poking out of a narrow plastic strip, and running under that is a thin hose with holes in it every foot. The holes drip over time, irrigating the plants. The plastic keeps weeds down and minimizes water evaporation.

Steve has to think way ahead to make sure he has enough produce to fill the CSA boxes each week. Pictured on the right are lettuce plants. The boxes have already had several weeks worth of leafy greens.

Pollination is vital for plant production, and Steve hosts these hives throughout the summer. When vegetables aren't blossoming, the bees are able to forage on the cover crops, or flowering plants in the wide paths between fields.

Green zucchini, and lots of it. Tipi produce has already harvested a couple of times, and we'll probably get a lot more from this prolific plant!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rain, glorious rain

A crack of thunder, lightning, a brief downpour and then settling into a drizzle.
I stepped out onto our porch and teared up; it was raining.
I collect poems about rain (have nearly 500) but couldn't find one of my favorites so this lovely poem will do instead. 

Enjoy the rain. Josh

A Summer Shower

Welcome, rain or tempest
                         From yon airy powers,
                      We have languished for them
                         Many sultry hours,
And earth is sick and wan, and pines with all her flowers.

                      What have they been doing
                         In the burning June?
                      Riding with the genii?
                         Visiting the moon?
Or sleeping on the ice amid an arctic noon?

                      Bring they with them jewels
                         From the sunset lands?
                      What are these they scatter
                         With such lavish hands?
There are no brighter gems in Raolconda’s sands.

                      Pattering on the gravel,
                         Dropping from the eaves,
                      Glancing in the grass, and
                         Tinkling on the leaves,
They flash the liquid pearls as flung from fairy sieves.

                      Meanwhile, unreluctant,
                         Earth like Danae lies;
                      Listen! is it fancy
                         That beneath us sighs,
As that warm lap receives the largesse of the skies?

                      Jove, it is, descendeth
                         In those crystal rills;
                      And this world-wide tremor
                         Is a pulse that thrills
To a god’s life infused through veins of velvet hills.

                      Wait, thou jealous sunshine,
                         Break not on their bliss;
                      Earth will blush in roses
                         Many a day for this,
And bend a brighter brow beneath thy burning kiss.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mobility-accesible gardening

A few weeks ago my friend Tara put out a call for some gardening help. I had some spare plants, a free afternoon and a desire to get to know Tara better. She organized two work nights, and I offered to meet her on the second night.

Tara largely, but not exclusively, relies on a wheelchair to get around. A mobility-accessible plot was available in the community garden along the Madison bike path at the corner of the Capitol City Trail and Ohio Street. Mobility-accessibly plots are raised beds (really raised, like 3 feet or so) and have easy wheelchair access on all four sides.

The Capitol City Trail is not just a bike path, but home to a string of community garden plots along an abandoned rail corridor.

I arrived before Tara and found this raised mobility-accessible bed. But it looked nothing like what Tara described. This was tidy, weed free and planted. I continued to explore the garden.
I found a second raised bed that looked (mostly) accessible. It was obvious work had been done around the plot  -- thick grass  stems belied the size of what had been growing there. A few big weeds had been removed from the bed, but otherwise, the plot needed some serious weeding. Not sure if this was Tara's plot, I decided to jump in. Literally, I broke my own rule to "never step in the bed" and climbed into pull weeds.
Within 30 minutes, I removed all but a sprig of catnip and a clump of chives. I made a large but tidy pile of catnip in case Tara had cats (turned out she does!), and I made another pile of lambs quarters for Jay and I to eat.
Tara arrived, and we decided that the much-neglected bed needed to be filled in, both to make it easier to get at the soil and to amend what was in the bed. I drove to the local hardware store and bought 30 bags of composted manure and one bale of peat moss. A neighboring gardener lent us a small rototiller to mix the manure and peat moss in with the existing soil, and we soon had a fluffy mix to plant in.

We planted my six tomato and five peppers, and then I got out my seed packets. We planted peas, lettuce and cilantro. We had so much fun together we decided to go to the very nearby Harmony Bar for walnut burgers and hot chips. What a great way to spend an afternoon and evening with a friend!

Monday, June 18, 2012

To row or not to row (cover)

This is a read and discuss post.
Please read, then discuss below!

We have read about the vile and despicable vine borer.
We bought 250 feet of floating row cover.
Our seeds went in two weeks ago and now have a few adolescent leaves.
But now I'm wondering if the tender new plants can handle the (current) heat and dry ground under a tent. Will we cook the squash before it's even fruited?

Your thoughts?

Can this tender young thing handle the heat under a tent of floating row cover?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Proposed excavation

A little white flag with "PROPOSED EXCAVATION" is not the kind of flag I like seeing anywhere, much less down the middle of our community garden pumpkin patch. Nor is the email from my utility company contact that says "Say Josh, I noticed you have a garden bed in the area we plan to trench."

Oh dear.

In mid-February on a cold day, my community garden co-chair Angela and I met with an Alliant Energy representative on nearly snowless ground to discuss what all the red spray paint and flags marching through the garden meant.

The flags outlined the furthest extent of the company's easement (so many feet from the centerline of the access road that passes the garden). Our contact then pointed out that the utility needed to bury some new power lines and despite the ominous looking flags (one of which was planted in MY plot) they would not be trenching through the existing garden. 

However, they would have to put a junction box just outside the garden, and he put some stakes in the ground outlining it's dimensions. The junction box was on the edge of our proposed pumpkin patch, and except for losing some square footage, wouldn't be too bothersome. I left the meeting feeling relieved that they would not be trenching through the garden, and since that meeting, except for seeing new diggers hotline flags, largely disregarded all the construction going on around us.
The community pumpkin and squash patch has three 100-foot beds. The bed closest to the bed will be destroyed during construction.

And then last week, these flags popped up smack dab down the middle of one of three beds where we planted seeds for our community pumpkin and squash patch. When I got the email I called our contact.

Apparently, he told me about this proposed excavation down this (then) undeveloped area - and apparently, in my excitement to create our pumpkin patch I forgot about this part of the conversation. Truly I tell you, had I remembered this, I NEVER would have spent half a Saturday with 10 people and a bobcat building a bed along the excavation route. But there's nothing we can do but minimize the damage, and so our patch committee went into emergency mode.

There were several things we needed to do before the construction started:

  • move the cardboard (under the blue tarp in the photo above)
  • move the wood chips (lay them down on the paths)
  • move a pile of hay bales
  • move the sprouted pumpkin seedlings into a plot of ground that had been plowed but not developed yet and was well out of the way.
The patch steering committee organized several work days. It was my idea to move the seedlings so I wanted to lead that one on Saturday - and then I learned about a good friends' dad's funeral that I really wanted to attend. Two patch members volunteered to move the seedlings - I haven't seen their handiwork yet.

I'm going to organize a few more people to move the rest of the wood mulch onto the patch paths. If we don't move it, it will be "consumed" by the construction project, which is set to start on Wednesday, June 20.

Over the weekend, I had an idea about putting the patch back together. If this was any other construction site, the utility would put the site back to the way it was. I'm going to call my contact and ask if they would, after leveling off the area, move several truckloads of compost from our source (500 feet from the garden) to the beds and spread it out. That would save our group tens of people hours and we may be able to do something with the bed after the construction. And if not, it will be ready for us next year.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Community Gardener Gathering

Garden Security and Theft Prevention Workshop 

All Gardeners Are Welcome to Attend! 
When: Saturday, June 16 from 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm 
Where: Marlborough Park Shelter, next to Madison’s beautiful Marlborough Community Garden. 
Located immediately south of the beltline, between Seminole Highway and Allied Drive. Easy access to the Park from Apache Drive. 
What: All current and aspiring community garden leaders, along with gardeners and community members, are invited to meet and discuss their questions, concerns and successes in improving garden security and preventing theft. The meeting will include small group discussions. 

Stay for ice cream after the meeting! 
RSVP please: Michelle Shively (608) 246-4730 ext. 208 or

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Educating people about eating squash

This response to Pumpkin Patch Dream Realized came to me as email, but is too good and important not to share with all. 

Dorothy's main concern is food pantry participants' lack of knowledge of what to do with squash, and she makes some suggestions about what to do about it. Please read this message and comment on the blog with other ideas you have to help promote eating squash.
Josh, and others donating to food pantries,

If you haven't already, a quick something to consider over the summer. I was at the Allied Boys and Girls Club food pantry last fall and they were having a hard time giving away squash. They said that the residents were unfamiliar with it and had no idea what to do with it.

It would be good to have preparation information and simple recipes available. Most food panty participants do not do fancy cooking and do not have money to buy elaborate ingredients, so it would generally be a waste of paper to print more than very basic recipes.

A photo display of various squash matched up with info about each that would stay available for the season, then a couple recipes for varieties available that day, would be perfect.
royalty-free photo from

Pumpkin pies for the holidays would be about as fancy as they generally get. Even for that, they're used to making it from a can, so start with how to prepare a pumpkin to be made into a pie.... and reasons it's worth the effort compared to pouring it out of a can.

Hopefully you planted a lot of spaghetti squash. I'd really love to see people appreciating it instead of pasta.

If there will be decorative squash and pumpkins, instructions for what to do with those would be good also, especially those that focus on children's activities.

Would American Family be willing to work with food pantry coordinators to help figure out a marketing program to help integrate fresh vegetables into their clients diets? There really is an amazingly large hole.

Dorothy Krause
Fitchburg Common Council
Dane County Board of Supervisors

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pumpkin patch dream realized

I couldn't be more proud of the American Family community garden Pumpkin Patch People. On Saturday June 2, ten people created three 100-foot unreinforced raised beds and planted hundreds of winter and summer squash and pumpkin seeds. The Pumpkin Patch People is a small group of gardeners who opted to participate in a community effort to grow squash and pumpkins for the group, and to donate to local food pantries. 

None of us has grown squash and pumpkins at this scale before. My friend Steve showed us what not to do in a 10'x10' plot. He planted three or four hills of zucchini and it took over his bed. In fact, it was Steve's experience that led to the idea of a community pumpkin patch in the first place.

Below is a photo essay of what we did, or watch the patch unfold in a minute and a half.
The ground was prepared by Community GroundWorks at the same time as preparing soil for 62 new individual plots.

Going through the box of seeds from Community Action Coalition. We had so many varieties it was hard to choose. Thanks to the seeds, the gardeners and food pantries around Madison will reap the benefits as our community pumpkin and squash patch will most certainly produce more than we can handle :)

The first step was to rake loose soil from the paths into the beds. We wanted to raise the beds and lower the paths. We will line paths with cardboard and wood mulch.

We are very fortunate that there is a huge pile of compost about 500 feet from the community garden. The compost is from the company's landscaping and is turned once a year. The company offered it to the garden. Our friend Scott brought his Bobcat tractor to help move compost into the beds to further raise them. However, we quickly realized that the tractor was compacting the soil in the bed where he drove, and the paths weren't wide enough for the tractor.
To avoid compacting the soil, the Bobcat brought compost as far as the end of each bed. One Bobcat scoop filled six wheelbarrows, so we lined three barrows up and the Bobcat driver dumped half the load into them. We then dumped the barrows and went back to refill, while others raked the compost out.
With the beds in place, we planted seeds. The ground was 80 degrees, and we had learned it needed to be 70+ for good seed germination. We planted three beds with many varieties in each. There was much discussion about planting in beds or hills; we did both.

We planted seven varieties of summer squash, seven winter and five different types of pumpkins. We hope this will be enough for the 38 patch participants.

The Pumpkin Patch backstory

In February, when it was cold and I was dreaming about summer, an idea was born. We knew that Community GroundWorks would return in the spring to till and prepare 62 more plots in the American Family community. But there is a lot of land available, and last year, many gardeners planted squash and other expansive plants only to find they took over the plot. 

So I proposed an idea to our volunteer steering committee - what did they think about tilling up extra land and creating a squash and pumpkin patch? Not all gardeners would want squash and pumpkins, so participants would opt in. Since this expanded beyond 10'x10' plots, the participants would work communally to prepare, plant and maintain the patch. As vegetables ripened, we would all harvest the produce, and extra would be donated to local food pantries. The group liked the idea and one person who wanted a little extra space to grow "The Great Pumpkin" volunteered to lead the "Pumpkin Patch People" committee. 

Around the same time, Community Action Coalition announced to Madison-area community gardens that they had lots and lots of seeds. I went to one of the distribution days and picked up nearly a hundred packets of seeds of summer and winter squash varieties, and many different kinds of pumpkins. We chose our varieties from these donated seeds.