Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Analysis of diseased garlic cloves

Last year I wrote about a mysterious "waxy" substance on my harvested garlic cloves. I chalked it up to "oh well, try again next year." We discarded or cut out the waxy parts and didn't use them to plant the 2013 crop.

In July, I harvested the crop and hung them in the garage to dry and cure. In October, I cracked open dozens of crowns to find the fattest cloves for planting the 2014 crop, and to my dismay, I found more of that waxy substance, plus some rotten looking cloves.

This time, I knew who to call, and handed some samples over to Brian Hudelson, senior outreach specialist with the UW-Extension plant disease diagnostics clinic. Each summer Brian pays our community garden a visit and is always interested in seeing dead and dying plants. I thought he'd enjoy seeing these samples.

I received an analysis today, and here's what Brian wrote.

Dear Josh:
I have completed the analysis of the garlic sample that you submitted to the Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic. I initially showed your sample to Phil Pellitteri, our insect diagnostician, for comment. Phil found evidence of Indian meal moth larvae in the sample. This insect tends to attack stored garlic. Please see the attached fact sheet for details on this insect pest and its management. Phil also found evidence of bulb mites in the sample, but commented that these mites are commonly found in soil and likely invaded your garlic after it had been compromised by other factors.

I subsequently used standard isolation techniques in an effort to recover disease-causing organisms from your cloves. I did recover some Fusarium from the materials that you provided and this fungus can cause clove rot issues on garlic. I am enclosing a photocopy of some information on the disease caused by this fungus. In addition, I believe that part of the problem with your garlic may be something called waxy breakdown, a high temperature-related physiological disorder. I am enclosing a brief description of this disorder as well.

In terms of management, I think the best way to proceed is to simply inspect the cloves you have in storage, and dispose of any with significant blemishes and/or discolorations. If you decide to use any of your cloves to replant next year, be sure to reinspect them prior to planting and use only blemish-free cloves. Also try not to replant in the same area of your garden plot where you had garlic last year.

I hope this information is of help to you. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks again for using the Plant Disease Diagnostics Clinic.

In conclusion:
  • I did not use any of the waxy cloves for next year's crop. In fact, one species seemed to be particularly affected and we ate or destroyed all those cloves.
  • I'm going to put a moth control strip near my garlic.
  • I did rotate the garlic into a new bed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New York Farm City

I came across this 6-minute video about urban farming in New York. I mean, these folks aren't kidding about urban farming - they're growing tons of food on rooftops. Beautiful video footage too!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Surprising gifts

I am am member of First Congregational United Church of Christ. If you live in Madison, that's the big church next to Camp Randall Stadium.

On Nov. 10, our minister, Eldonna Hazen, opened her sermon with a lovely garden analogy that I was so moved by, I asked her if I could share it on my blog.

The overall theme is about recognizing, and sharing our gifts. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

If you look at the cover of the bulletin today, you will see plants growing from pots.  Each of these seeds has been planted deep in the soil and surprisingly pushed its way through soil to grow.  Some of the seeds we plant gift us with food, some gift us with beauty.  Some of these seeds will surprise us in ways we hadn’t ever imagined.  They may produce the biggest watermelon or carrots or potatoes we have ever seen.  Some of the seeds may produce the smallest onions or tomatoes.  Some of the seeds may even surprise us by being something other than what we thought we were planting.  “I could have sworn I planted red roses, why are they yellow?”  Or maybe we were sure we planted broccoli and we got cauliflower.  Seeds have a very interesting way to surprise us.  We plant them deep in dirt, we water and weed, but we don’t really know what we have until it pushes through the soil and surprises us.  And in my case, who cares what was planted, I’m just excited and surprised when something I planted actually grows out of the ground.  These are surprising gifts.  Gifts that will now bless us with a bounty we hadn’t imagined or envisioned, but are ours to share.  I will admit, to the avid gardener these surprising gifts could carry some frustration.  But ultimately, I’ll bet every gardener would find use for the bounty that has blessed their garden.
We certainly don’t have to look too far in the First Congregational garden to find many gifts.  Over the last months people have shared “Because of your generosity” moments.  People have reminded us of the many ways this congregation touches and is touched by generosity.  First Congregational is able to change lives because we are willing to use the gifts each of us knows that we have within us.  But what about the surprising gifts?  We all think we know our gifts pretty well.  What if we took the time to re-evaluate our gifts?  What if we were surprised by what we had to give?  Then, what if we surprised others with our gifts, so they too, could benefit from our gifts?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Scrambling for coffee grounds

I don't drink coffee, but by the smell of the inside of my car, you'd think I had a more than a little coffee problem. Well, you're right, but not the problem you're thinking.

Sometimes I wonder if the coffee odor inside my car is so strong it's permeating the fabric and other materials and long after this coffee jag is over, my car and I will both continue to smell like a rude mix of dark roasted vanilla hazelnut espresso.

Here's the story in a nutshell:

  • I'm in a race against the first significant snowfall to collect coffee grounds from cafes across Madison's east side to turn wood chips into organic matter by next spring.
Why coffee? What's the rush?
Coffee grounds are an excellent source of nitrogen. Great compost organic is created by mixing the proper amounts of carbon (in my case, wood chips) and nitrogen (all those coffee grounds).

There are many ratios depending on what goes into the compost mixture, but typically, it's a Carbon:Nitrogen ratio of 20:1. Too much carbon and it stays a dry heap. Too much nitrogen and it gets too hot and kills all the good organism OR it turns into a sloppy, smelly mess. Get the ratio right and it warms up, decomposes and results in a lovely compost for the garden.

Killing grass with wood chips
In our back yard and on the terrace between the sidewalk and street, Jay and I put down a heavy layer of wood chips to kill the grass in preparation for garden beds next year. The wood chips alone will kill the grass but won't be a great medium for planting next year. 

Enter the coffee grounds. I pour them on the wood chips, rake them in and let the two work it out.

So, before the snow covers up the wood chips, I want to cover and rake in a lot of grounds so the wood chips have time to decompose over winter and into next spring.

I'm currently collecting from seven different places, and have a morning and an afternoon route to collect grounds, swap out 5-gallon buckets and take them home to spread out. I can't reveal my route or my sources, but I'll share them with you AFTER my coffee mission is complete :)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tweet summary from Badger Bioneers 2013 conference

For the third year, I had the priviledge of representing American Family Insurance at the annual Sustain Dane Badger Bioneers event.

Bioneer is (Bio + Pioneer). Bioneers are social and scientific innovators from all walks of life and disciplines. They are engaged citizens who focus on solving our world's most urgent problems within a framework of interdependence.

I think what I like the most about the conference is the diversity. I met UW students from all over campus, interns at various businesses and non-profits, vendors who have products and services to help businesses become more sustainable, and people who are gardening in their back yards and community gardens and are interested in meeting like-minded people (ok, so that last chap was me).

I don't Tweet much, but I do like to Tweet out salient points when I'm at conferences like this one. So in case you aren't following me @joshfeyen, here's what I had to say during the day. If you'd like to see what others had to say, search Twitter for #badgerbioneers2013

  • We know the bad news - now lets focus on the good news and what's possible #livingbuildingchallenge
  • Fail fast, fail often, get till success quicker, Tracy Brandenburg, Cornell
  • Definition of sustainability: managing society today so future generations have same quality of life, Craig Benson
  • The path forward sometimes means making the path while walking on it - Grandpa Bernie
  • check out the awesome new Sustain Dane mission statement
  • We throw away more than $20b worth of recyclable materials. That is an economic drain on our economy. This from Michael Washburn - I suggest we watch this guy, he's going to change the way we think about garbage and recycling
  • During Michael's talk, I Tweeted this
    I've always wondered why companies that produce all this packaging don't have an obligation to collection and recycling

Monday, November 11, 2013

Annual community garden potluck and networking

I attended my third Community Action Coalition (CAC) community garden potluck and networking event Monday night, Nov. 11. Each year it feels a little like homecoming, when many of us who are passionate about community gardens gather to share successes, winge (but just a little) about garden problems and share ideas.

One idea I got from Melissa Gavin might just make me a super hero in my garden next spring. She has a simple recipe of vinegar, salt and soap that will turn Canadian Thistles into wispy crispies. Melissa mentioned in passing she found the recipe on Pinterest - I found one that sounded like here recipe.

I also met a farmer who specializes in small-scale tilling and soil prepping. We may need him next spring if the American Family community gardeners decided to convert our "vine" or pumpkin patch into more plots.

It was also a delight to reconnect with Annette from the Atwood Community Garden. Two summers ago I helped a friend reclaim a weedy plot and Annette lent us a little rototiller. The diminutive machine was GREAT since I had to literally climb up an into the 2-foot tall accessible plot.

Finally, I got to sample some great food! Pumpkin soup. A broccoli soup with a touch of cayenne. Some amazing apple desserts. And a sourdough bread with sage butter. OMG.

But the best part was sitting around the table, good food on our plates and even finer company. I sat at a table for "garden leaders," there were other topic tables as well, like food pantry gardens, and gardens in southwest Madison.

Thanks to Shelly and the staff at CAC for organizing and hosting this dinner. I find it rewarding and very helpful. Like I said, it's kind of like going back home.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Build an orchard, build community

Last spring, my husband and I decided to build an orchard at our newly-purchased home.
We could have put it in the back, but I proposed installing the orchard in the front. One of my goals was to make the orchard a focal point for the block, and a learning opportunity about growing perennial food, alternatives to grass lawns and to build community. One way to accomplish my goal was to include our neighbors in building it and harvesting from it.
Just about a year ago, I walked door to door introducing myself to everyone on my block. I apologized for the giant piles of dirt, wood chips and hay bales spilling into the sidewalk. I explained that we were about to install an orchard for everyone on the block to enjoy. And finally, I invited people to stop by to watch, and pitch in, if they wanted.
On installation day, 25 people from many circles of my life showed up, including five neighbors. In four hours, we moved seven tons of compost, spread 25 bales of hay and planted eight fruit trees.
It was, by all accounts, wildly successful.

More than a month later, another remarkable event happened. My neighbor, we’ll call her Gloria, walked by while I was in the front yard. She’s on a fixed income and has a hard time getting around and immediately apologized for not being able to help plant trees. I told her she was participating by enjoying it. Then she lifted a small pack of flowers out of her walker’s basket, saying she found them on clearance at a local nursery. I accepted them them as precious gems, and thanked her for the beautiful gift.
The flowers were, however, just the start of what she had to offer. She told me that she’d lived on the block for years, and had never quite felt like she belonged. “But since you did this,” pointing at the orchard, “and invited people to participate, I feel like everyone is so much nicer and like I belong here.”
Her words stunned me.
I asked myself, “Did the block really change that much?” Or had Gloria’s perspective changed? Then I realized it didn’t matter what changed. Somehow, eight fruit trees in my front yard helped Gloria feel like she belonged. 
Turns out, I didn’t build an orchard, I started to build a community.
Watch the four-hour orchard installation in six chaotic minutes.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Garden clean up and vegetable ethics

Jay and I cleaned out our community garden plots today.  We pulled up the brussels sprouts to make room for garlic - too bad, it would have been nice to get them closer to Thanksgiving. The good news is that we planted seven varieties of garlic (200 cloves this year!) I used my own garlic from last year, and added two softneck varieties. A softneck failed on me in 2010, but I thought I'd try again with some that was actually grown in Wisconsin.

We also harvested parsnips, which was a first for me. I am very pleased with the harvest. They too could have stayed in the ground for later harvesting, but it's much easier having two people to harvest them, one nudging them with a spade and the other gently pulling them up. We broke most of the tips, but didn't lose much "food." I love roasted parsnips, but what are we going to do with all of these???

We have lots of kale still in the plot (if it survives Sunday night's plunge to 28 degrees F). This year's lesson for next? More beets. Less kale. We've been eating a lot of kale chips, and I've traded kale (one big bag for peaches, another bag for blackberries). We're going to blanch and freeze some this week.

Finally, the ethical question.

We knew that tonight's temperatures will plunge to 28 degrees. That's not a frost, that's a hard freeze. Looking around the garden, there was a lot of produce that would be mush in the morning. Tomatoes, peppers, even some summer squash. It'll all be ruined in the morning.

So... dear readers. Here's the question.

Is it ok to go into other people's plots and harvest food that tomorrow will be useless?

I'd love to hear your answers.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Garlic - you need to plan ahead

Just a quick note that if you intend to plant garlic next year, you need to think about getting garlic seed stock now. Garlic is planted in October, but you need to order your seed stock now! Many places that sell garlic for planting take orders now and deliver in October - but often stop taking orders in early September. There are many vendors, from your local farmers market to mail order nurseries across the country. The one place it's best not to buy from is your grocery store - garlic there is treated not to sprout - except organic garlic.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Orchard progress - flowers!

I've had several people ask me about how the orchard is progressing since building it in late April. Since pictures tell a thousand words, here's the orchard as it is in late July.

We killed the grass on nearly two thirds of the terrace (that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street). Instead of planting grass, I threw down several packets of wildflower seeds that are good for bees and hummingbirds. It's a riot of color today.

I planted dutch white clover which grows to 2-3 inches tall. I had a packet of zinnia seeds laying around, so I threw them out with the clover. They came in nicely too, and my neighbors have commented on how fun it is to see pops of color in the sea of green!

The orchard from a different angle.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Getting excited about garbage

I haven't been this excited about garbage in years. 

My neighborhood is participating in the East Madison organics collection pilot program, and this spring and summer I have noticed with envy my neighbors putting food scraps and yard waste into black bins that the roll out to the curb on trash day. Our house didn't come with a bin, and I wanted one. I learned that it's a pilot, and I requested a bin.

So you can't imagine my excitement when I got the following email from George Dreckmann, the recycling coordinator, "We will get you signed up. This brings our Eastside pilot up to 302 households which is over our limit so we cannot add any more right now."

In addition to the 35-gallon bin, we also got a 2-gallon kitchen collector with a close-fitting lid and a carry handle. We also got some compostable bags that allow kitchen scraps to ventilate and evaporate moisture while keeping smells and other nasty things in the bag. What I'm most excited about, to be perfectly honest, is the ability to include small amounts of yard waste. Seriously, that apple tree doesn't stop dropping fruit!

From left to right, green bin for recycling, brown for garbage, and the new little black bin for compostable materials.
Our bin arrived today, and I went  to the website to see what other materials are being collected. They also collect house plants, weeds, and other compostable material such as paper towels, napkins and plates, pizza boxes, and any paper products too contaminated to be recycled. They also take pet waste of any kind including cat litter! (Although that's not a problem, because we use flushable cat litter.)
A 2-gallon kitchen collector with a close-fitting lid and a carry handle, and compostable bag.

Many of these items cannot safely be composted in a backyard compost bin, but they will compost nicely in the large scale compost system where temperatures are high enough to kill harmful pathogens.

So while on the farm we fed food scraps to animals, and "composted" everything else, I'm pleased that we will be more deliberate in our urban setting.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What I did with overripe snap peas

I was on vacation last week, and even though I picked every last sugar snap pea off of the vines, the vast majority of the crop matured and then over ripened while I was away. On Monday I spent 20 minutes stripping the vines and when I got home dumped a grocery bag full of snap peas on the counter to see the damage. Indeed, at least a third of them were overripe. The shells were far too mature to be pleasantly, so I split one open and tried a pea or two. They were a bit bitter.

This was my first ever successful crop of snap peas, so I just couldn't throw them away. Instead, we decided to make lemonade out of lemons, or in our case, pea purée with basil and Parmesan cheese. I added some olive oil in a bit of salt, and we tossed it with some asiago cheese.

As Mr. food was once want to say, "Oooo, it's so good."

There is no way we'll eat all these peas, so I'm going to try to blanch and freeze the rest. First time trying that too!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Little Free Library #2805

There are many reasons we built to our front-yard orchard. We wanted fruit trees, yes. But we planted them in the front to weave it into the fabric of our block, to create something for more than us to enjoy and learn from, and to share it. 

I feel the same way about the Little Free Library movement. Have you seen one of these pint-sized wonders in your neighborhood? They are small lending libraries in front lawns and other public places around the world. They reflect their owners or the neighborhoods where they stand. And I love spotting them around town.

 So you can't imagine how excited I was to learn that our neighbor, just across the street from us, was already putting one together for her front yard!

And this week the 1900 block of Mifflin Street became home to the newest Little Free Library, #2805. 

The sponsor, MariLou, decorated it with images of young people and pets from our block, including our cats! 
I love how MariLou painted the library to match her colorful house.

There are many ways to build community - I'm trying one with our front-yard orchard. MariLou is trying another. Together, they make a handsome pair on our block.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

New plant to identify

THANK YOU to all who have helped me identify a few plants. The ragweed and others are now pulled out of my orchard, and the trumpet vine is no longer threatening the house foundation or the neighboring herbs. I left some purslane in a few areas and I'll try nibbling on it.

Now for a new one. We have an open space with freshly dug dirt and I noticed a plant today that I've never seen before. It looks "purposeful" if that's a term, but I have no idea what it could be. While mowing I spared it to see what it is.

The green leaves have a silvery tone to them, and the stem and underside of the leaves are quite silvery.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Weed identification - the answers

Thank you to the many folks who helped identify the following seven plants.

Ragweed. I did my neighbors with allergies a favor and pulled it.

Perhaps a type of mustard or shepherds purse, but as Molly wrote, "Anything that flowers that fast is suspect." Math and Tamara think it's field pennycress. I pulled it, but oddly, before ID'ing it, I bought a pennycress plant from a farmer's market herb stall. Unsure, I pulled it.

Yarrow, an insect attractor, tends to be on permaculture lists of "good plants." I did get one warning that it spreads and is hard to get rid of once it's established. I decided to leave it.

ID'd as pigweed or redroot, amaranthus. Most people thought it was edible, though one said no. I pulled it. 

Zinnia - an annual flower from seed I threw in with the clover just to see what would happen. The largest of these plants have a flower starting, I left it.

Purslain - edible and delicious according to most people. I left it.

This domestic number is fast outgrowing my patience. I'm going to hack it back this weekend.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More plant identification

While the comments on my blog post asking for help identifying weeds don't reflect it, I got a lot of great email helping ID the plants. The comments function on the blog seems to be broken, my apologies for that. Regardless, here are two more plants to identify.

This is a low-growing plant I found among my onions. Any ideas? Edible, useful?

And this is a photo of a perennial planted near the foundation of our house. It's starting to vine all over the place. What is it?

Close up of leaves

Friday, June 14, 2013

Edible weeds from the orchard

The other day I wrote a blog post about trouble I was having identifying weeds growing in the orchardI've been weeding the orchard to give the clover an unfettered opportunity to create a solid ground cover to protect the soil, fix nitrogen and prevent weeds from coming up. 

One weed I can readily identify is known to me as lambs quarters. I've also heard it called Aztec spinach. Regardless of the name, I think it's delicious.

I pull the lambs quarters well before it goes to seed, which is also when it's tender and effortless to remove. And since the whole idea of this orchard is to be a food forest, I eat everything edible it produces.

As I pull lambs quarters, I gather it in one hand with the roots facing the same direction. After weeding, I cut off the stems and roots with a garden shears, though taking them into the kitchen and chopping them off with a knife would've been fine too.

Here are my two favorite ways to prepare this spring green. If you have a favorite way to prepare this green, or if there are other so called "weeds" that you eat, please share them in the comments.

Lightly sautéed

  1. Rinse the leaves and stems and spin out in a salad spinner. 
  2. Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a frypan and warm-up. 
  3. Put the greens in the frypan and turn a few times until the leaves are coated with oil. 
  4. Then allow the bottom leaves to fry a little bit (we're not talking deep-fried here think stirfry), and stir them up a couple of times. 
  5. Serve hot.

Nearly done sautéeing.
Steamed with vinegar

  1. Rinse the leaves and stems and spin out in a salad spinner. You don't need to get the water off, I just find this helps get the last of the dirt off.
  2. Put in a large saucepan with a couple of table spoons of water and a tablespoon of your favorite vinegar. 
  3. over and steam for just a few minutes. The leaves will turn a bright green, will wilt and the stems will become tender. 
  4. Serve hot.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Weed or keep?

I'm pretty good at identifying annual vegetable plants. I don't know their family names (although I am learning) but I can tell you what's a tomato, what's a squash, and what's an onion. And compared to annual vegetable plants, I can pretty easily identify what a weed is; weeds are what's left after I identified the vegetables!

While weeding the orchard this evening, I realized there are some plants I'm having a hard time identifying. The majority of the orchard groundcover is white Dutch Clover, a low growing groundcover. However, when I planted the clover, I found some packets of flower seeds and mixed them in with the clover; and I don't remember what I sowed nor what they're supposed to look like. Also coming up in the orchard are lambs quarters and pig weed, both I can identify.

If you can identify any of these, use the corresponding numbers and let me know what's growing.

#1, looks a little like a cross between a marigold and a carrot. Any guesses? Weed or keep?

#2, very upright, tubular stem, pretty white flowers.

#3, I'm pretty sure Judy Skog gave me this one, but I don't recall what it is,

#4, flower or foe?

#5, maybe a flower, though I honestly have no reason other than to think that some of the flowers seeds must have germinated.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kale chip recipe, first harvest of the spring

Kale! I discovered kale last year. I know, but until then, I didn't really know what to do with what we got in our CSA box except give it all to Jeff and Erin (sorry guys, that explains ALL THAT KALE last year :)

Until we discovered kale chips. Then I was all over kale and started two varieties from seed this spring. After an unfortunate early spring sunburn when I killed four plants by putting them out without properly hardening them, the four replacements are growing and I harvested leaves after work today.

Little known fact I can't prove but have heard - up until recently, Pizza Hut was the largest user of kale in the U.S. What for? Decoration around their salad bar. My bet is they don't turn them into kale chips at the end of the day.

Kale chip recipe

  • Preheat oven to 300f
  • Rinse kale leaves and tear into "chip" size pieces. Tear the leafy parts away from the thick stem (compost the stem). 
  • The leaves don't shrink much, what you tear is pretty much what you get.
  • Pat dry, though this is not really necessary. Maybe give them a spin in a salad spinner, or don't worry. They are about to get very dry.
  • Oil a cookie sheet, I use an olive oil mister. You don't need much.
  • Lay kale leaves flat on sheet.
  • Oil the leaves.
  • Sprinkle a little salt on the leaves.
  • 10 minutes in the oven; watch them, they can go from chips to charcoal quickly.
  • Turn them over for the last 5 minutes. The don't hold heat, you can do this with your fingers. Some may be flattened on the tray, a little nudge with a spatula will get them off.
  • I had enough for two trays, and I swapped the racks after turning chips over.
  • After they are light and crispy, let cool on the trays.
  • Store in an airtight container so they don't get stale.
First harvest of the season, kale chips.
What are your favorite kale recipes?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rabbit-proof fence

While traveling for three months in Australia, I dug into the culture and watched the movie "Rabbit-Proof Fence." It's the dramatic true story of three aboriginal girls who followed a fence that had been erected in Western Australia to keep non-native rabbits on one the east side out of the pastoral grounds in the west.

While I am not facing ultimate destruction of every living thing in my country, it certainly is starting to feel that way.

I started to get this feeling when two weeks ago something ate all of the marigolds I planted in my community garden plot. "Marigolds?" I thought they repelled things, and were not interesting food for anything. I replanted them and this time stretched row cover over them and fixed in place with 6 inch ground staples. To my horror, the other day I found that something had pulled the ground staples out and ate all the marigolds.

I also discovered this same creature ate an egg plant and a pepper plant! "A pepper plant?" This is the first time I've had any plant damage from anything but insects. It think it's fair to say the mammals have found our community garden.

So Saturday morning before going to my garden to finish planting and doing a little weeding, I stopped at the hardware store and purchased fencing and fence posts. You have no idea how much this pains me. The aesthetics alone I find distasteful, the inconvenience even more so. Then there's the maintenance, the sagging, the rusting, etc.

Everything in my garden is once again covered in row cover, but has previously discovered this may not help at all. But I ran out of time on Saturday morning and so the fence posts and chicken wire remain in their original packaging.

I know that if I don't assemble this I will return to my garden regularly and cry silently or yell loudly if no one is around. I also know each time I return after putting the fence up I will feel like I gave in to some four-legged creature that hasn't given me the courtesy of a thank you note.

New photos as the fence goes up.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Succession planning a small garden

Ever since I called myself a “lazy gardener” in my other blog posts on raised beds, not stepping on plants and mulch, I’ve been wondering if the word “lazy” comes from the French “laissez faire,” or “deliberate abstention from direction or interference…” In my case, the less I have to interfere in my garden, the more time I have to prepare and eat the food from it.

Here is another areas where I significantly more vegetables in my small community garden plot.

Succession planting
Some vegetables are harvested mid-summer. Think onions and garlic. Succession planting can make sure your valuable garden space doesn’t go to waste for the rest of the season.

  • Create a planting scheduled so you don’t forget to get those seeds in on time. 
  • Watch the maturity time on seed packets. It’s no fun planting 50-day beets 30 days before the first frost. 
  • Plant fast-growing plants near slower growing ones. For example, plant garlic (fast) near peppers (slower) - after your mid-July garlic harvest, the peppers will fill out and take up the empty space.
  • In late July or early August, plant beets, carrots or radishes, all of which will grow before the first frost hits them. 
  • In September, plant lettuce to harvest later in the month. It likes cooler weather.
  • In October, plant garlic for harvest next season.
Autumn-planted garlic is harvested in July. I will put in a crop of lettuce or short-season carrots for the remainder of the season.
50-day beets were planted in mid-April to be harvested in summer. Edamame (soybeans with edible pods) go in next, and later in the season I'll plant a 240-day carrot which will be harvested next summer.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Flea beetles and rabbits

Just when I thought I was safe from frost and my plants are over the shock of being in the full sun, I think it's safe to say the flea beetles have found our community garden and the rabbits have found my plot in particular.

Thanks to a blog post from The Mifflin Street Planthouse that mentioned she'd have a few extra plants for those whose kale got hit by flea beetles, I visited my community plot today. The kale, under a floating row cover, hadn't been hit by beetles.

Kale looking pretty good under floating row cover. There was some insect damage, but not horrible (yet).
But there was nothing left of my eggplant and ground cherry plants. Seriously, I just planted them last week!

Then I looked and saw that a pepper stem, my largest plant, had a big toothy gouge in it. Pulled the plant, it was a goner.

Finally, an entire row of marigolds had been mowed to the ground. Marigolds? I planted them to keep the rabbits out! I'm seriously considering a low fence around my beds.

Poor marigold didn't stand a chance to the killer rabbits.
Fortunately, I had just received 50 feet of row cover and a bunch of fabric ground staples, so I started to cut pieces to individually wrap everything.

I think I found a nice way to manage it. I heavily mulch my garden, but the row cover is unsealed around the edges, even with lots of ground staples. I pulled the mulch away, stapled the cover to the dirt and then replaced the hay mulch. I'm hoping this will discourage more salad time in my garden.

Now, where to find the particular varieties I started in my basement seven weeks ago???

I row covered everything, even the tomatoes and marigolds. There is a lot of "blousiness" left for the plant to grow into. I'll just have to get it off and the cage on before it outgrows a cage.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Lazy Gardener mulches - heavily

A heavy layer of leaf or seedless hay mulch is very good for your garden. Heavy means a good two inches of hay mulch “slabs,” or a good inch of partially rotted leaves. Mulch is the organic gardener’s friend too:
Maintains consistent moisture (less watering)
Reduces weeds (less weeding)
Reduces erosion (good for the soil)
Breaks down, adding fertility (also good for the soil)

This is how thick I apply marsh hay mulch. Compared to my neighboring plots (look just behind my plot) I have no weeds and I haven't weeded yet this spring!)

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Lazy Gardener doesn't step on plants

When giving a tour of my vegetable patch, I call myself a lazy gardener. It usually gets a laugh, but more important, it gets people’s attention. Here is one of my top tips to decrease work, increase fun and grow more vegetables. 

Don’t step on your plants. One of the reasons I like garden beds is it not only keeps weeds out, they also help to keep my size 9’s out of my garden. If you’ve worked hard to build loose soil, the last thing you want to do is compact it. Trodding too close can:
  • Damage fragile roots
  • Compact soil, reducing water penetration
  • Break off branches, flowers or fruit
The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a snake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the snake are the words "Don't tread on me". The flag was designed by and is named after American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden. It was also used by the Continental Marines as an early motto flag, 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Lazy Gardener lies in raised beds

When giving a tour of my vegetable patch, I call myself a lazy gardener. It usually gets a laugh, but more important, it gets people’s attention. Here is one of my top tips to decrease work, increase fun and grow more vegetables.

Raised beds. I like raised garden beds, and they can be simple or complex, all serve the same purpose. Garden beds can be reinforced (made of scrap lumber six to eight inches tall), or simply unreinforced (mounded up soil). Beds can be built before planting or after harvest (for the next season). 
These are the raised beds I grew up with. The art deco carpeting was  a later innovation. 
Some benefits include:
  • Easy access for planting, weeding and harvest
  • Creates a physical barrier so you aren’t tempted to trod on plants or compress soil
  • Soil amendments such as compost and mulch stay in the garden and out of the path where not needed
This is the "keyhole" design for my 10x10 garden. Fewer square footage for paths is more for vegetables!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Worms after the rain

I visited my community garden plot shortly after it stopped raining. As I drove to the garden, I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of worms on the road pavement. I felt bad for them, it was a cold morning and they were getting squished by countless cars. 

As I stepped out of my car, I looked down and there was a big nightcrawler. I went to the garden and found a small bucket, and started following the curb and gutter along and then past the garden. It was littered with slow moving but not dead or squashed worms. I picked one up and dropped it into the bucket. 

Then another, and another.

It's fairly compelling to pick them up - and keep picking them up. There's always one more just a few feet up, and another a few feet further. I had limited time, so I when I arrived at an intersection I turned around and returned on the other side. Here's what I found.

Well-worn worm trails in the sand and small gravel.

"March of the Penguins" got nothing on these slow-moving creatures that were desperate to get out of the approaching (and deadly) sun.

Some of the night-crawlers found escape in pavement cracks like this one, but many other worms were trying to escape to the soil through cracks far smaller than the worms.

I promise this was not a staged photo. "Noooo," I pleaded with the nightcrawler, "Don't jump." Fortunately I was faster than he/she was.
A nice bucket full of worms and nightcrawlers.

I dropped handfulls of worms in each of my garden beds, and covered them with mulch. The mulch would protect them from the sun and keep them moist. Hopefully they'll stay in my garden.