Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mother Nature

She giveth and she taketh away, Mother Nature. We've had traditional Southern thunderstorms this year. Every day or so as the heat and humidity rise, so too do the cumulous clouds. Rising and rising getting darker and darker until the rumbling starts soon followed by rain. I am so grateful when it rains! Our garden grows beautiful when we get these intermittent rains, But, night before last we had a doozie! Lightening filled the sky, the rains came down in sheets and the winds were ferocious. The limbs of great oaks lifted and swirled in the wind. The next morning street and yards were littered with large limbs and branches. Power was still out in whole neighborhoods in our small town and the garden had taken a beating. Our field pea tower, made of bamboo, snapped under the pressure. Okra plants, chest high the day before, lay in a whirl on the ground. A block away, following a straight line out from our garden, a giant oak fell on apartment building crushing the roof. Downburst? I think so.  

We heeled up the okra and propped up the field peas and picked up twigs and branches off and on all day. City crews and private owners cleaned up larger limbs and except for the crushed apartment we're back on track waiting for okra to bloom because the fruit forms almost overnight. Waiting. Waiting. Soon.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tomatoes 2016

Altogether it's been a good tomato year. With the exception of a two week rain-free period the end of June, we've had steadily space thunderstorms watering our vegetables. But. Tomatoes fade when the dewpoint rises above  70%. Slowly the tomatoes plants are succumbing. I've rooted suckers and hope to have plants through Fall. Right now we have a glut. Tomatoes line the kitchen window sills, are piled on the counter and overflow bowls. We eat tomato sandwiches for breakfast and slice them with every dinner. It is altogether a good problem to have.
Organically grown! 


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Diary of a Seed Saver

The first time I saved seeds it seemed like an awesome project. Nope. Silly me. It is not. It is easy. Mother Nature does all the work. Just leave a plant alone. It will slowly mature and dry up. The seed pods are ready to harvest then. Today I harvested arugula and dill. Come late August, I will sow and they will grow. We can do that here in the coastal plain of North Carolina, grow arugula and dill twice in one year. Sow, I do.
Arugula. Two seed pods. Sixty seeds. Free.
Today's tip: Tease the seeds onto a paper plate. They are easier to pour into an envelop or jar that way.
Note: A packet of organic arugula seed from a reputable seed company sells for $4.20.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Squash: The Struggle is Real

Squash bug eggs. Squash them! 

Summer squash is no easy vegetable to grow down South. With more than one enemy it's close to a miracle to get any. Too cold/cool and they will not germinate. Lying in wait in the soil, perp #2, are squash borers who bore into the main stem and surreptitiously suck the life out of the plants from the  inside out. The parents a bright orange and black flying critter too quick to kill are a sure sign of trouble. Squash bugs, perp #3, look like brown marmorated stink bugs. They lay clusters of down eggs on the tops and undersides of squash leaves. Their nymphs are light grey and black which suck  on young fruit until they wither and die. Perp #4 is powdery mildew. Spred by spores it thrives in warm humid weather. Like I said, it's a wonder Southerner gardeners ever get any squash. I kill all squash bugs I see and look for egg clusters which I crush. I pick all wilty leaves, a sign of squash borers and pick off leaves with powdery mildew. A daily chore, I know I will inevitably lose. I also know it is worth the trouble to have them grilled, stuffed, sautéed or casseroled for dinner. Be brave and carry on!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Time

Time is on your side when gardening down South, especially in the coastal plain of North Carolina. If  it is not the right time for one plant, hang on, it is for another. It is no longer time for potatoes, but in their place I planted okra. Same with sweet peas. Out they came due to heat. In went field peas, aka Food of the Gods, in their place.
The time for green beans is upon us. Their window of opportunity is short. As the superheated subtropical heat pushes up from the equator, or the arctic air subsides, depending on your point of view, green beans fail. Tricky they are. The plants remain lush and green, the flowers continue to bloom but...the pollen of these self-polinating wonders becomes infertile in the super-charge heat of summer and beans do not form.
Now is also the time when ants emerge hungry. Very hungry. Native ants farm. They farm aphids. Aphids make a sticky sweet substance that ants adore. They suck the life out of the tender tips of plants like green beans for the ants.
Itty bitty baby bean! Victory! 
Time has taught me to look for ants crawling up and down the stems of plants. In no time aphids will appear. How do I deal with aphids? I squash them with my bare hands, gentle gardeners. If there are too many? I blast with the garden hose. If that doesn't kill them? I use diatomaceous earth. Take care. It is organic but, like all pesticides, it is indesciminate. It can hurt you too. Read the label. Especially your eyes.
Meanwhile. Sex and murder in the garden! As good as any trashy mystery novel!

Monday, May 30, 2016

New Composter

Every year I have one big experiment. This year it is a new, in the garden, compost bin. The inspiration came from a P. Allen Smith show on PBS way back in the dark days of winter. Very simply it is a wire cage linked into a tube around which are planted three tomatoes. The wire cage serves as a compost bin that, as garden and food waste is breaking down, fertilizes the tomatoes. It also keeps the tomatoes consistently moist and has, through this chilly Spring, kept the plants warmer. Here, now the end of May, the plants are taller than me, and are loaded with tomatoes. When the plants die back I'll let the compost finish breaking down and dig it into the garden. So simple! So brilliant!
The easiest composter ever! See July 9, 2015 for post on how to grow tomatoes.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Summer squash!

Hand pollinated because the bees are not here this year.

Way back in March I bought squash plants from a big box vendor of garden seedlings. If I hadn't had a plan they'd have been freeze dried several times. After planting them, I covered them with a wire fence tunnel, wrapped it all in Agribon and waited. They were covered for at least a month, warm and cozy in their gauzy cocoon surviving a frost and some really cold nights. Fast forward to early May and we are eating fresh summer squash. Sadly, the bees were hit hard by that same frost weather so I am pollinating them with a small paint brush every day. They are naturally grown using supernatural techniques.