Monday, September 15, 2014

Seeds are for Sharing

A gardening friend stopped by the office not too long ago, bringing with him a plastic "sandwich bag" full of pawpaw seeds. I've washed the big, brown seeds, stashed them in a little plastic tub to keep them damp, and they now are in a little fridge at work. If anyone wants a few, please feel welcome to call and/or stop by to pick some up (UGA Extension, Cobb County, 770-528-4070). I'd like for them to not go to waste.

I already have pawpaws growing in my yard, and there are several pots of seedling pawpaws on my back deck, from a drop-off of a dozen seeds earlier this year, and most of those also need good homes. To make fruit, cross-pollination is required, so two or more plants/seeds will be needed for each planting.

For me, pawpaws are a connection to home, because when I was growing up, my great grandfather had pawpaws growing in his yard in Claremore, Oklahoma. For anyone who is less familiar with these native fruits, Kentucky State U. has a helpful page about pawpaws.

I've said it before, but one of the best parts of my current job is that it places me in the hub of a wheel of garden generosity. Gardeners drop off extra seeds, sometimes even plants, and I get to move them along to other gardeners who can use them. It's a great place to be!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mid-September in the Garden

It's almost as though the garden has taken a deep breath, and is yet to exhale. It will be a few weeks before the cool-season vegetables will begin coming into the kitchen, but much has been planted; of that, much has germinated and pushed out some true leaves. We are waiting.

Okra, peppers, and the late-planted bush beans and cowpeas are still ripening in the garden, and there will be another week or two (or three) of tomatoes. In October, I'll be digging up the sweet potatoes and peanuts, but the warm season crops are almost finished for the year.

Already I am looking forward to the winter radishes, to slice thinly and salt as an easy snack. I am ready, too, to leave behind the hectic pace of the summer garden. There is so much to harvest, and the weeds grow so quickly! There is a lot to do, every week. In the cooler seasons, it is much easier to keep up with the garden.

Besides the winter radishes, I've planted regular salad-type radishes, spinach, lettuces, chicory, cilantro, peas (that the yard-rabbits have mostly eaten down to nubs), beets, two kinds of kale, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, carrots, collard greens, and a little more parsley.

The short row of parsnip seeds that I put in late has not germinated, but those seeds often are slow, so I'm not giving up on them yet. If I can find some cauliflower transplants this week, I'll add those to the garden, too.

Pulling the finished summer crops, amending the soil, and replanting has been some work, but the upcoming harvests will be worth the effort. Hope everyone else's gardens are growing well!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Saving Seeds for Beans

Part of my gardening includes saving seeds from some crops to plant next year. Beans are among the easiest crops for gardeners to save. The risk of cross-pollination is low, and cleaning the seeds is mostly a matter of shelling them out, sorting through to remove any that look "off," and waiting for them to dry before storing them in the fridge.

I usually place my seeds in the chest freezer for a few days after they seem very dry, before moving them into the fridge with the rest of the seeds, just in case there are any hitch-hiking critters in the seeds that might cause trouble in storage. These in the picture are almost dry enough to store.
Bush bean seeds to plant next year.
This is not the only variety of beans that I am growing and saving. The beans in the picture above are from some "Provider" bush bean plants, and the others, that only recently reached maturity, are my friend Becky's "Joanie beans."

Even though the risk of cross-pollination with beans is fairly low, I planted the Joanie Beans much later than the Provider beans, so there would be no chance of crossing between the varieties.

For all kinds of beans, it's best to leave the pods hanging on the plants until they are brown and dry before bringing them in to shell out for sorting and saving the seeds. As the Providers were reaching that stage, there was a lot of rain in the forecast, and I had to bring them in a little sooner than I would have preferred; if they had been left out in the rain, the risk of mold on the beans would have gone way up.

Most of the beans look good, though. For my little garden, the amount in the basket above is enough for two or three years of planting. That is very good news for my seed-budget! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Garden Keeps Rolling Along

The three-day weekend was reasonably busy in the garden. Joe helped with the biggest job, using the grub hoe to churn up the cleaned-up squash/melon bed, so I could spread on a layer of compost and then set in the little plants I've been growing in a flat. The plants include a couple of kinds of kale, cabbages, cauliflower, beets, more cilantro, and a couple of broccoli.

I also worked more on clearing the last of the older tomato plants. I'd like to be able to plant that bed soon with spinach, bok choy, and winter radishes.

The bed I've saved for carrots still needs to have the buckwheat cut down, and there is a little space where the tomatillos were that will be available for re-planting after I've dumped some compost on it. Otherwise, though, the planting for fall is nearly done.

The first lettuces have developed some true leaves; the first cilantro looks less frail; the peas are a couple of inches high; and the cilantro, collards, and kale that I planted in the garden as seed a couple of weeks ago are all looking like actual little plants.

Meanwhile, we are still bringing in peppers, okra, and tomatoes (the Principe Borghese that were planted last have just recently begun to ripen), and the late-planted green beans and cowpeas will begin contributing to our meals later this week.

I had planted seeds for pickling cucumbers several weeks ago, to find out whether a late-planted crop was a possibility, and those are beginning to make cucumbers; however, the leaves already are very damaged by mildew, so I'm thinking that the late cucumber crop is going to be tiny. The plants won't last long in the garden at the rate they are going downhill.

I also sprinkled some critter repellent around the perimeter of the sweet potato bed. The chipmunks have already been in there, eating my little crop. I'd like for the little rascals to leave me some this year, and I'm hoping the repellent works.
I totally forgot that this year's watermelons would be yellow inside.  PHOTO/Amy W.
A highlight of the weekend was eating watermelon from the garden. This year's melons stayed smaller than they should have, but they were sweet, with good flavor and texture. I had completely forgotten that they would be yellow inside, so I had a very brief "uh oh" moment as I sliced into the first one. It is great that the garden offers so many surprises! I am never bored.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pollination Station at a Hummingbird Banding Event

On Saturday morning, I helped at the "Pollination Station" at the Hummingbird Banding event at Smith Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw. Earlier in the week, an email plea for additional help had landed in my inbox, and I jumped right in. This was an upbeat way to close what had seemed like an unusually hard week at work.

Alan, Master Gardener volunteer, is in the green shirt.
Alan, one of our Master Gardener Extension Volunteers, had put together the display, and another volunteer had helped him with the laminated photos. I brought Extension information to give away.

Hummingbird banding was going on under the tent near the flags.
UGA has a lot of great publications about pollinators, both native and imported (honeybees); it also has a nice publication about attracting birds. These were all big hits with people who stopped by our area to learn more about pollinators.

Clemson Univ. Extension has a publication about creating an inviting environment for hummingbirds, and I was able to bring copies of that, too.
Many of the younger crowd went away with colorful hummingbird "tattoos."

Kids also made these cute little hummingbirds to take home. The body is a peanut.
Based on comments from people who stopped by with questions about pollinators, plenty of people are ready to do what they can to support pollinators. It was great to visit with so many people about bees, wasps, butterflies, bats, birds, flies, beetles, flowers, and more!

The event had plenty of activities for the younger crowd, including hummingbird "tattoos," a learning table, and a couple of "make your own" hummingbird crafts.

The craft that I hadn't seen before involved making little hummingbirds out of peanuts. They were super-cute! I was told that a lot of adults wanted to make these, too, but there weren't enough prepared peanut bodies for more than just the kids to make these.

The peanuts had been pre-painted with white paint, a toothpick had been stuck into a hole to be the beak, and little tulle wings had been tied with twine and hot-glued on. The kids needed to determine whether their bird would be male or female, and paint the peanut accordingly.

The very last picture in the set is included for my Mom, who needs to use her walker more. She has a hairline fracture in her lower leg that resulted from a fall a couple of weeks ago.

Several people made use of walkers at the event. They were well-prepared for the uneven ground and a morning outside in the August heat.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Harvesting Summer to Make Room for Fall

About 2/3 of my butternut squash harvest.    PHOTO/Amy W.
It's been a busy weekend in the garden. To start, I harvested most of the remaining butternut squash. Six had already been brought inside, because the vine they were on looked "done."

These in the photo to the right were also on some pretty dead-looking vines, but there are three more immature butternut squash out in the garden. After tracing their vines so I could determine whether they had a chance of further ripening, I left their vines behind when I removed the other, browned-out plants. So far, I have brought in about 25 pounds of butternut squash. That has opened up some space in the garden.

Browned vascular tissue caused by a tomato wilt disease.  PHOTO/ Amy W.
I also harvested all the remaining Amish tomatoes, even the green ones. In last week's post I had mentioned that the plant had a lot of yellowed, drooping foliage, and it was time to pull up that plant.

After slicing through the stem to check on what had caused the trouble, it was easy to see the gunked-up vascular system, which often is caused by Fusarium wilt. A healthy stem would have been white or whitish-green all the way through, rather than being ringed inside with brown!

As space has opened up in the garden, I've planted some more seeds. Today I planted some kale, collards, lettuces, nasturtiums, and English peas. If they don't do well from seed at this time, it won't be a disaster, because I have started some of those in a flat already.

Caterpillar of the Gulf fritillary butterfly.  PHOTO/Amy W.
The English peas are part of yet another experiment. I harvested most of the popcorn, and as I was cutting the stalks down to chop up for the compost pile, I decided to leave them cut at about 3.5-4 feet high, for peas to climb up. The peas are planted in the rows between the cornstalks. It will be interesting to see how that space goes as the summer/fall progresses.

Elsewhere in the garden, we have some surprisingly unattractive caterpillars. They are dark orange with black spines, and they are busy defoliating the passionflower vine.

Bees loving a passionflower to smithereens. PHOTO/Amy W.
The caterpillars are the babies of the Gulf fritillary butterfly which also is orange, but it seems a lot prettier.

The passionflower vine is getting a lot of insect activity. In addition to being host to the spiky caterpillars, it also is host to some big, shiny carpenter bees that spend most of their days, it seems, loving on the purple flowers.

All that bee-loving action has resulted in the formation of a lot of "may-pops" on the passionflower vines. I am looking forward to trying those fruits!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Not Fall Yet, But Getting There

This weekend I made more progress on switching over to "the fall garden." Some of the summer plants are still doing really well, some are just now reaching their peak of production (peppers, okra), and some are nearly done.
Rutgers tomato plant, still green and productive.      PHOTO/Amy W.

Based on the percentage of browned leaves, I'd say that the Better Boy tomato plant is going to keel over soon, but the Rutgers plant is still covered up in green leaves and plenty of fruit.

This weekend, I pulled out one of the smaller-fruited tomato plants that looked pretty bad, and that should help the airflow around the Rutgers and Better Boy, hopefully helping to keep them alive and productive a little longer.

The Cherokee Purple is definitely done, the Pink Brandywine still has a few fruits, and the Amish tomato plant is somewhere in between. It has several green fruits that are nearing ripeness along with some smaller, newer fruits, but the foliage is yellowing and droopy. I think it has fusarium wilt, but I haven't sliced into a stem yet to check.

Fruits of a passionflower vine. This vine has at least 10 so far. PHOTO/Amy W.
Among my other experiments for the summer is a passionflower vine. The flowers are beautiful (I'll try to get a good picture up, soon), and I'm hoping that the fruits have enough pulp inside that I can make a little juice or jam.

Another crop that I haven't really mentioned yet this year is the greasy beans. Six slender vines (they are pole beans) are climbing up a little trellis, and they have been making small numbers of beans, but the production has been steady. When I bring in a handful, I pull off the strings then toss them up into a hanging basket to dry for leather britches. If I had lots of them, I'd do the traditional hanging-up-on-a-line-to-dry thing, but I don't.

Flat of seeds for cool-season crops.      PHOTO/Amy W.
I've started some more plants for the fall garden, too. While waiting for more of the summer crops to finish, it can help to have some of the cool-weather crops already started, for transplanting to the garden when the space is available.

Just behind the flat in the photo to the left is a box with some cabbage seedlings in it that I started a few weeks ago in peat pellets. Those were bumped up into a couple of old "6-packs" last week, and I'll be setting those plants out into the garden in the next week or so.
Butternut squash nearing maturity.          PHOTO/Amy W.

The husks on the popcorn have been turning brown and dry, and as I've noticed that change I've brought them in. If I leave them outside too long in damp weather, they tend to mold (it's happened before), so bringing them in on time can be important.

I finally brought in some dried Provider Bush Beans that I had left on the plants to mature, to replenish my seed supply for planting next year.

The wrinkled, tan pods were definitely ready to be pulled! The beans have been removed from the pods, and I've set them out to dry in a wide, flat basket.

I have some Joanie Beans growing in the yard, too. These bush beans from my friend Becky are part of her family history, and I plan to save seeds from those, too.

When the weather returns to being a little bit more dry (we've had a lot of cloudy and cool, with light rains mixed in), I'll start bringing in the butternut squash that began to turn to the mature tan color a few weeks ago.

This is a busy time in the garden, but so rewarding. I hope that all the other gardeners out there are enjoying this time in the gardening year as much as I am!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

When the Garden Pelts You with Food...

This weekend has been all about managing great piles of vegetables. Most of the veggies have been from our own yard, and some are from the little farm where we volunteer on Saturday mornings.

Our one cherry tomato plant, a Super Sweet 100, has been pouring on the steam, and we've been having trouble keeping up with the ripe, sweet little fruits, so one of the jobs for today was picking a bunch of tiny green tomatoes for pickling. Just minutes ago, I pulled four pint jars of pickled cherry tomatoes out of the water-bath canner.

Yesterday, I made and preserved in jars a batch of tomatillo sauce. Four half-pint jars of the tart green sauce have been added to our cupboards as a result.

Joe started a gallon-sized batch of brined pickles that is mixed cucumbers and green tomatoes. He also started a pint of fermented hot sauce with a beautiful pile of ripe, red, cowhorn peppers.

The dehydrator has been filled, emptied, and refilled with slices of tomato and with chopped peppers (a mix of both hot and sweet).

I skinned and seeded a big bowl of ripe tomatoes, roasted them in the oven until I could smell them turning sweeter, and then let them cool. Those are in the freezer now. They mostly filled a quart freezer bag. I strained the juice out of the skins and seeds and froze the juice, too.

Out at the garden-farm, we found a couple of hilariously large zucchini, and I brought those home to seed, peel, and shred. I made a couple of loaves of zucchini bread using 2 cups of the shredded zucchini. I froze the rest, measuring out two cups to each freezer bag, so those will be ready for making more zucchini bread later in the year.

The four bags (8 cups) of shredded zucchini joined four bags from a couple of weeks ago, from other over-large zucchinis that we had uncovered out at the garden farm then.

Also today, Joe cooked crowder peas that had been harvested last summer, using the solar oven that he placed out in the front yard. The owner of the garden farm has planted what we are sure will be a superabundance of crowder peas, so we are trying to use up the last of the previous harvest.

Our younger son, who recently moved back home, has cut up some okra and is frying it to add to our supper.

We are incredibly fortunate to have this abundance of good food! The garden is some work, but the rewards are great.

Hope all the other gardeners out there are enjoying the harvest!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Needed a Bigger Basket

For weeks, the little basket was plenty big enough for the 1-3 pounds of produce that I brought in from the garden each day, but last week we finally reached the point of needing a larger basket.

That "I needed a bigger basket" time of year has arrived.        PHOTO/Amy W.
The zucchini are almost done, because the pickleworms have found my zucchini patch, and I pulled up the last of the raggedy cucumber vines over the weekend, but tomatoes and peppers are just now hitting their stride, okra is flowering, and the earliest butternut squashes are beginning to change color from pale green to that buff/tan that indicates ripeness. The tomatillos are producing, but in little waves, so that some days I bring in several of the green fruits and other days none are ready.

Meanwhile, I've dug up the last of the white potatoes, planted buckwheat in the empty cucumber patch, sowed some cilantro seeds, another bush-bean patch, and a few late cucumbers (an experiment...). I also planted some basil seedlings into the space where the last potatoes had been.

The popcorn has produced a few small ears on each stalk, and I noticed that something had climbed up one of the stalks and nibbled at the base of the lowest ear of corn. Luckily, the kernels had already begun to harden and be less easy to eat, so the critter gave up without doing too much damage.

I've had to put netting over the peanuts, because the neighborhood rabbits thought the plants were delicious. The daily damage was going to drastically reduce my peanut crop, but the bird netting propped over the bed seems to have stopped the ongoing damage (for now, at least).

The biggest task for August will be transitioning to fall crops. Three of the tomato plants will be done soon -- they are some of the more disease-prone of the heirlooms -- which means that space will be open, and other crops will be coming out, too. I like to have some of the fall crops in the garden beginning around August 10, so I have plenty of gardening to look forward to in the next couple of weeks.

Hope everyone else's gardens are growing well!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Community Gardening for Food and for People

At last night's meeting of the not-yet-one-year-old Cobb Community Gardens group, Bobby Wilson was the guest speaker. Mr. Wilson is past-president of the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA),current CEO of Metro Atlanta Urban Farms, and all-around long-time expert on community gardens. It was an interesting meeting, but a few things from his presentation stand out as being particularly useful.

One is that community gardens should have a two-part goal: growing food and building stronger communities. Mr. Wilson actually addressed that more specifically when he said that 10% of the effort should be about growing food and 90% of the effort about building community.

In the community garden attached to his urban farm, the community-building is partly through monthly meetings at which there are lessons in both gardening and leadership. The meetings offer an opportunity for fellowship and networking, and the meetings also are used to reach out to homeless people each month. Basically, the gardeners need a reason to come together on a consistent basis, and the monthly meetings provide that for this particular community garden.

The Atlanta Regional Commission has put together a Community Gardening Manual that explains the basics of setting up and running a community garden, and it probably is not a coincidence that the first "organizational consideration" listed on page 4 in the manual is "What is your purpose?" The purpose, to an extent, defines the group and is one motivation for the gardeners to be actively involved.

Mr. Wilson spoke briefly about food deserts, and it sounded as though providing good, nutritious food to people in food desert areas is a major motivator for many community gardens in Atlanta.

Another idea that really stood out was of the usefulness of attaching community gardens to small farms. Of course, Mr. Wilson didn't phrase it quite that way, but urban farms, unlike community gardens, are eligible for Federal funding through NRCS and the USDA for some property improvements, like water wells and high tunnels. For small, urban farms, it also was suggested that certification as Naturally Grown, a process that costs a lot less than organic certification, could be helpful in selling produce and gaining funding.

A third idea that is a project of the community garden at Mr. Wilson's urban farm was the publication each year of  a garden calendar that celebrates the group's achievements. He passed a copy of one of these calendars around, and inside there were pictures of the garden, including the year's garden King and Queen, along with a listing of milestones and accomplishments, and in the back there was a member directory/phonebook.

This was a wonderful document for the group that probably also helped promote active participation. The discussion about the calendar was part of a larger point about marketing the garden. My notes from the meeting include, in large print: "Marketing Your Program is Important!" The giant exclamation mark on my notepaper reflects the tone of voice in which this bit of advice was delivered.

Mr. Wilson brought a banner on which a pledge to work toward sustainable food production was written. He asked us all to sign it before we left. The pledge was this:
I pledge allegiance
to our environment
through sustainable
agriculture and practicing
good stewardship.
One very big announcement that Mr. Wilson made at last night's meeting is that the ACGA is planning to move headquarters from Ohio to Atlanta. We are all hoping that the move will provide access to some great training and other resources to keep our communities strong and well-fed!