Saturday, July 23, 2011

Suddenly, flowers.....

Five months coming to this point and  I know how this happens.  I don't know how this happens.

The broccoli's center heads have been harvested...side shoots beginning.  Potatoes ready-more than ready-to be dug.  Only one zucchini plant lost to the squash bug so far.  It's still amazing to me how much food just 400 square feet can produce. 

That's Romanesco cauliflower behind the zinnia.  I finally sent them to the compost pile this week.  They'd been regularly deer munched and after 75 days, still not the least sign of a head.  Cayenne peppers now own the space.  The Romanesco should have produced this.  A compost pile accepts the failures without judgement.

Most of the basil in the background is in the freezer now; pimento peppers will get taller with a second crop of basil at their feet.  (Tropea onions too.)  The dill is serendipity....first batch of refrigerator pickles tomorrow.  Salvia guarantica, browallia, Sky petunias-blue and blue and blue.

Red currents in the common area for anyone to pick.  I got enough to put a quart of current juice in the freezer.  This is one of the easiest fruits to grow...the shrub is pretty and the berries are easy to pick. Most of the birds are off robbing the cherry trees and leave the currents alone.

Very pretty, but white currents are......white.  Unusual color in fruit.  They taste...unidentifiably ....fruity.  I could do this with them, I suppose.  I may pick some to dry and see where that leads, but it just seems like a fruit should taste like a color or a color should taste like a fruit or or or something.  There's no real resemblance, but a white fruit  puts me squeamishly in mind of poison ivy berries.  (shudder)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hot and Blooming

The squash bugs are on their way...I think I've caught most of the eggs in my plot, so that only leaves another five acres for these creeps to breed in.    (Click here for photo of the young squash bug and here for the adult)  So far, the diatomaceous earth is keeping the squash borers and cucumber beetles from doing too much damage.  (I have planted more cucumbers because the beetles skeletonized the first blooms.)  Meanwhile, a second set of zucchini seeds is germinating because even if I keep the bugs beat down, the Mildew Brothers...remember them?  Downy and Powdery...will be coming soon.

Rewards!  Here are the last of the central buds from the Diplomat broccoli...this variety has a reputation for producing  lots of side buds over the rest of the season. And the first Zephyr zucchini...woohoo!  (Sure, boxes of zephyr have been at the farmer's market-4 bucks a pound-but I love the harvest here.)  Tip for organic broccoli: I give the heads and leaves a dip in salt water to scare out any wee beasties.

Here's a little nemophilia called Buffalo Eyes-a silly name for flower this delicate if you think about an eyeball the size of your fist belonging to a 1500 pound animal whose sense of humor has worn thin.

Summer forget-me-not and it really is this blue.

The agrostemma (Ocean Pearls variety) is finally  opening.  It likes a cool soil and has been happy growing amongst the red savoy cabbages.  The common name is corn cockle, an agricultural pest elsewhere; it doesn't survive the winters here. One of the best cut flowers ever.

Covent Garden annual babies breath-gypsophila-and I have been waiting for this to bloom.  The seed is becoming harder to find even though it's a self-sowing hardy annual.  I'll save its seed this year...just in case.  All commercial attention goes to plants with marketing programs like the Proven Winners and these easy, charming flowers drop off the list.

Soil temperature update:  on July 10 at about 1 pm....under 2-3 inches of straw mulch:  at 4" soil depth, 72 degrees.  At 2 inches soil depth, 73.5 degrees.    No mulch/bare soil : at 4 inches soil depth 82 degrees and at 2 inches, 93.5.   The reflective straw does smooth out the temperature changes while the bare soil registers at least a 10 degree temperature change over only 2 inches.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I spend more time getting to and from my  garden plot than I do actually working in it.  It's a community shared 20 x 20 foot gridwork of relationships, personal problems and mysterious behavior.  This wonderful chair, for example....must be garden art, I guess because you wouldn't want to sit there between the cabbages and the squash in the blazing sunshine.  

 If you have a lot of woody bits and pieces, you have to do something with them.  Actually growing a crop doesn't seem to be the priority here.   There are garden plants beyond the fence, but this plot is really a study in lumber and dirt...a geometry of barriers.

This ramshackle length of wire tied with a strip of cloth says "keep out" quite clearly.  I pass by here often and wonder about the  gardener.  It's a symbolic barrier; there's not much to keep out and less to protect within, but that simple piece of cloth has a strong voodoo.  The deterrent is not in the engineering, but in the intent of the engineer.  

 Here are domesticated plants left to fend for themselves.  I once lived next to a small dairy farm; occasionally the cows escaped their pasture and wandered into my garden where they would stand looking perplexed until someone came to collect them.  (1200 pounds of befuddled dairy cow can stomp a lot of garden into compost before she's redirected.)  These lettuce plants are like those cows; they need someone to own them, to put them back in context.

The story on this neato shelter....there was a grant to pay an actual Irish thatcher-fellow to install actual Irish thatch, but before the money came through, he went back to Ireland leaving the structure thatchless.  Master gardener volunteers eventually used cattail foliage for thatching and hey presto!  (You may need to know this trick someday).

 There is a wonderful shed for shared tools and rain barrels on both sides.

Nice homey feel to this plot where the gardener is recycling furniture wood for planting beds.

This garden art actually says a lot about this gardener.

The memorial orchard is maintained by volunteers.  You can read the sad backstory here

The fruit trees have been sprayed with Surround, a kaolin clay product-OMRI approved-that acts as a barrier to Bad Guys.  Surround has been around for ten years and enough evidence has been accrued to note that the silver white surface also increases yields in the trees by protecting the foliage against intense sun and heat. (Yup.  Trees don't really like those sweltering July days either; photosynthesis shuts down around 85 degrees.)

One Japanese beetle dying of lonesomeness.  Unfortunately, Surround doesn't bother the deer at all.  Several of these trees have been deer pruned.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Hive Mind Arrives

Awwww...don't these Colorado potato beetle nymphs look cozy?  No.  They look dangerous to me, so let the handpicking begin.

Looking a bit creepier now.  

These potato plants are in a  garden plot about a 1/4 acre away from me. Normally, I'd rather not get interventionist on these bad boys, but here's an example of the biotic potential if not interrupted.  (If I squint, that bug on the upper right resembles Michelle Bachman)  Today, after more handpicking, the potato patch was-selectively-dusted with diatomaceous earth.  The eggplants were redusted...some progress against the flea beetles and within the week, they should outgrow the damage.  There is a model of predator/prey relationships that generalizes to a triangle graph with predators at the top-about 10% of total population of an area-and then all the prey below that-90% of the population, ie LOTS of food and a few diners. (Picture a pride of lions following a bazillion wildebeests)  The diatomaceous earth is effective but non discriminating, so by using it, I have to accept the idea that I've also killed some predators and over the long term, that's a bad idea.  During this garden season, my potato patch won't become like the one above, but I've twiddled up the predator prey balance.  I don't have a good answer to that dilemma.  Here's another one-worse- beginning:

Here's the squash vine borer moth.  This is a terrible picture.  Here's a better one.  You notice a flash of red orange amongst the zucchini/melons/pumpkins and think...oh! a butterfly!  Definitely not, and this bad bug has a fabulous survival strategy.   The larvae tunnels into the stem of the plant where literally no predator can reach it.  The tunneling doesn't usually kill the plant, and all the organic control methods will tell you bury other pieces of the vine so that the plant has many rooted extensions to depend on.  (That's a good idea for other reasons also...water, nutrient access etc plus, you'll feel better too)  Sadly, it doesn't work as borer protection.  A few weeks after the squash vine borer appears, your cucurbit patch will look like this:

The pumpkin patch looks like it needs water, but nope, this is bacterial wilt spread by the squash vine borer larva, and no amount of watering will perk it up.  Dead.  The vines were well rooted in dozens of places, but it didn't matter.  Bacterial wilt killed the plant, and the groundhogs got the pumpkins.  You might also read that the moth lays her eggs at the base of the plant.  But if you catch her in the act, notice that the eggs can be anywhere:

See the egg...the little gold colored dot near the center of the photo?  The moth will return often-for about 10 days- and lay an egg in several locations.  I dusted this plant with D.E. which may kill the larva if the timing's right and does discourage the female from landing.   Back when the Victory Garden was an actual educational program and not a commercial for its sponsors, we were shown how to run a wire into the larva's entry hole in hopes of skewering the monster.  This often worked to kill the larva, but the bacterial wilt would already have spread throughout the circulatory system.  I've heard of a new method to try this season.....use a hypodermic needle to fill the larva tunnel with neem oil.  Best organic control:  have a second set of plants ready to replace the buggy zucchini.  (That doesn't work when what you want are pumpkins or melons-their growing season is too long.)  
Ok!  Cue the next bad boy!

The striped cucumber beetle which attacks everything-the name is nonsense.  The bad guy can be spotted also, and they kill plants by sheer numbers, skeletonizing leaves, flowers (which prevents fruit set) and the fruit itself...add in the bacterial wilt as well.  They winter over and migrate too, flying at night; there is some evidence that bats do reduce the their numbers.  This is my neighbor's sunflower, so I couldn't dust this plant without her permission.  But this fellow is looking across the canal at my young cucumber plants, so we'll have to develop a plan.
Is there any good news in the garden this week?  The Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are up; the deer hasn't been back.

I harvested the last of the spring planted red mustard, thinned cippolini onions, cut parsley and dill for drying.  We've had nearly three inches of rain in a week; many canals are full of water.
I love to look at this fellow's garden...never quite sure what he's up to, and he doesn't speak enough English to explain the plan.

One advantage in community gardening is that I get some goodies without the work as in these wonderful annual poppies in the garden next door.  I'm going to beg some seed from this gardener.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pardon Me, But Is This Piece of Sky Taken?

The bean towers are up.  There are dozens of pole bean varieties to grow and everyone of them with a compelling narrative....if you are growing stories.  (In America, we have reached that level of wealth where we are starving for context and the content be damned.)
I've planted the Cherokee strain of Trail of Tears-a vigorous  pole bean.  With a name like that, you know there's a sad story; this is the bean that the Cherokee  people took on the winter death marches that forced them across the Mississippi River.  Meanwhile, in New Millennium America, I send the Trail of Tears on a space grab into the sky and  choose this variety to commemorate what the people suffered, to refresh the knowledge of what the Humans have done/still do/will do again.  

The Bad Boys have arrived.  This is deer damage on the speckled trout belly lettuce.  The deer munched a path through Swiss chard and broccoli in neighboring gardens.  Initially there was outrage against human thieves, but eventually we found the hoof prints to indict Bambi.  Well, said a misogynist down the way, if people would just close the gates, these things wouldn't happen.  Sure, I'd love to blame the Humans for everything bad that ever happens, but the gate is 3 feet tall-no challenge to deer whatsoever. 

Have potato patch...have Colorado Potato Beetles-it's a law written down somewhere.  The bug, popularly known as CPB although I refuse to indulge it with an acronym, is truly a creep.  You can hand pick for awhile, but let your labor pause and learn a vivid lesson in exponential growth.  Nearly all the gardens here have a potato patch and for the One Crop Plot, potatoes are the most popular choice, so the bug has ample habitat.  (And no, it's not pretty or cute.  I snagged them off my plants and plunked them into a jar of diatomaceous  earth. Normally, it's the other way around.  You dust the plants with the D.E.  But I was pissed.  I would do that to the deer too, but D.E. is actually good for mammals and birds...gets rid of intestinal parasites in the same way it helps against other bugs.)

I'll shake this poor eggplant to get some of the D.E. off; it's under heavy flea beetle attack.  Organic pest control literature will tell us to grow the eggplant-particularly the fat Italian types-as a trap crop for flea beetles and that does work.  No beetle damage elsewhere in the garden, but the eggplants are gasping, and I'd rather have them than the broccoli.  The eggplants may survive just long enough for this wave of flea beetles to complete their brief life span.

Serendipity....a tradescantia growing on the garden border.  Looks charming and will give the quack and reed canary grass some competition which should tell you something about this plant.

The calla lily loves the mushy canal.

Diplomat broccoli and Yukon Gold potatoes thriving.

Robin pal hoping for excavation.  I wish he was a threat to deer and beetles.

This is salvia guaranitica already calling in the hummingbirds who are notoriously camera shy.  Hummingbirds love all of the salvia family.  I've got a few of the Lady In Red variety that were symmetrically bitten off by Bambi's midnight snacking -no photos for awhile.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Relentless Heat Out of Scale and Context for June

Air temperature today-before lunch-92 degrees.  We've put away our winter coats and turned on the air conditioning.  The allotment has gotten its first layer of straw and a good thing too.  Soil temperature is 97 degrees two inches down on bare soil, but it's 77 under the light reflecting mulch.  (68.5 at four inches under the straw)  Many neighboring gardeners don't like mulches; I admire their ability to hoe and cultivate and weed...true dirt farmers because it looks to me like that's what they grow-orderly bare dirt.  Bare soil is unnatural in the Midwest....clear a patch and the planet immediately throws a green bandage over the wound and out come the hoes again. Exhausting.  I prefer to garden.
Here is red mustard being a nurse plant to some pepper seedlings sheltering near the tip of the leaves.  The peppers (Sheepnose pimento) will soon grow tall and shelter the mustard in turn. On the left is invisible mache which I covered completely with straw during this heat wave.
 Speckled Trout Belly lettuce that I've been munching while doing the chores.  Haven't decided whether to eat it all or grow  out for seed.  This unusual June heat may make the decision for me by causing it to bolt.  This was one of Jefferson's famous lettuce varieties, but the seed is common now, so perhaps I'll pull the lettuce to give the salvia-on the right-more room.  It's salvia guarantica-with flowers more blue than a June sky over the rainbow-a high nectar plant to call in the hummingbirds and what's a speckly lettuce to that?  Here too are browallia and Sky petunias

This robin is my faithful pal as long I've got a garden hose and some digging to do.

Had a serious talk with that broccoli  plant-second from the end-about the value of real estate in 400 square feet of garden and the expectations of occupying a bit of it.  Other plants are making inquiries and promises.  Potatoes coming up randomly and there's my latest garden hat.....doing  no good, but annoying me less...on the compost prison.  
There's a small lemon verbena plant next to the viola; native to the Argentine savanna, it loves this heat which it rather expected to have in December.  Soon it'll look like this. 

 Long view of the community garden.  We're a fairly tidy bunch on this section without many fences and only quiet eccentricities.   

The other side of the path.  It's interesting how these random plot assignments work out.  I find this intriguing to look at, but as a tourist only, and I was given a plot where the fences are built of courtesy.  Fences should be garden art or it comes to this: fence something out; fence yourself in. (shudder)  Or as my pal Bob Frost said ....before I built a wall, I'd ask to know, what I was walling in or walling out; and to whom I was likely to give offence
Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down.
These garden owl statues perplex me.  Does the gardener think that  sly varmints won't have noticed  a normally nocturnal and stealthy predatory bird has taken to sitting on a pole day after day in the heat of the afternoon.  I plan on putting a child's birthday hat on this one.

A patch of mustard and onions  gone to seed.  Someone will come soon and knock this down, but I find it beautiful.  I could take off my glasses and paint this.
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