Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is It Spring Yet?

Walking to the neighborhood coffee shop on our "snow day".
November and December were so warm that they hardly counted as "winter months" this year, but we finally had a little snow to cap off three weeks of cold weather, and that really is just about enough winter. Are other gardeners as itchy for spring as I am this year?

Right before the coldest nights, we pulled most of the remaining beets and winter radishes and about half the remaining carrots, since the tops that stick up out of the ground can get mushy from exposure to very cold air. I haven't checked under the row-cover yet, but I am hopeful that the last couple of cabbages are not too damaged.

The spaces created by pulling up those crops have me thinking about what to plant next. I know that the "last frost date" is a long way off, but some more cool-season crops can go into the garden sooner.

This weekend, I finally will sit down with my stash of seeds and the pile of 2016 seed catalogs and begin work on my seed-starting and planting schedule for the year. That activity has been put off this long because always, when I start thinking about it, I want to get started right away (even when the schedule I create has a first-seeds-starting date in late February!).

Luckily, even though (in theory) it is too soon to start seeds of most crops, I will be leading a seed-starting workshop in February, and to get ready for that I can start a small number of plants as part of the demonstration portion of that workshop. Those first few plants will be from my own stash of seeds. For the seed-starting workshop, though, Park Seed has Very Kindly Donated some seeds for participants to plant.

I had asked for seeds of the Parks Whopper tomato, since that variety is very hardy in our area, and it is a very tasty tomato that not enough people know about or grow. In addition to the packets of Parks Whopper, they also sent three packets of peppers (California Wonder, bell pepper, organic seed, and Karma hybrid sweet pepper) and a couple of additional tomato varieties (Little Napoli, a great variety for container growing, and Early Girl hybrid that is a UGA recommended variety for our area). It will be great to be able to send participants home with planted-seeds of varieties that are known to do well in our area!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Can You Dig This? - The Movie

On Tuesday evening, Joe and I went to see the movie Can You Dig This at a one-time-only screening. The movie, set in LA and featuring Ron Finley and other area residents, shows how the simple, basic act of growing food can transform lives.

The movie, in addition, was a powerful reminder that not everyone has access to health-giving produce, straight from the garden, and I know I am very fortunate in being able to grow food in my front yard.

We saw the movie at a theater inside the perimeter, and after the movie, people who are very involved in urban farming and the Atlanta local-foods movement stood up to say a few words about urban farming in the metro area.

One of the speakers was Eugene Cooke, of Grow Where You Are. I love this guy's vision of integrating farming more fully into communities, but he seemed to be having trouble containing some of his frustration as he spoke at the screening. He is hoping that more growers step into leadership in the urban-ag arena, but right now there are many other players who are poking their fingers into his pie (I know - mixed metaphors, but I am hoping the point comes across). Since Eugene follows agro-ecological principles and uses Veganics as his guide, it is likely that a lot of people who visit his farm don't really understand how much of his work goes into building and maintaining the soil.

Some of our Asian persimmons - Ichi Ki Ke Jiro.
Other speakers included someone from the Georgia Farmers Market Association,  Dr. Ruby Thomas who is a pediatrician promoting veganism for her patients (her website is called The Plant-Based Pediatrician), a representative from Truly Living Well who said that the group would be increasing its outreach to children and families in the upcoming year, someone from the Georgia Food Bank (I think ... my notes are getting more sketchy as I go along) who mentioned the work of Georgia Food Oasis Robby Astrove who has headed up the planting of many, many fruit trees in the metro-area, and last of all, Cashawn Myers of Habesha, whose chance to speak was cut short by the beginning of the next movie. I had hoped, actually, to hear what Cashawn would say, since two of my friends have been through his farmer training program, but I will have to wait for another opportunity.

The refrain that ran through the movie and ended the evening was "Just plant some shit!", and there already is a planned "Plant some shit day of action" on December 15,  from 2-4 p.m., in Edgewood at the corner of Whitefoord and Hardee. The flyer I picked up on the way out of the theater specifies "Dress to get dirty, bring gloves, water, & garden tools."

Meanwhile, at home, I am reaping some of the rewards of having "planted some shit" already. Joe brought out a ladder today to harvest the rest of our persimmons, and we have plenty of cool-season vegetables from the garden still adding to our meals.  Feeling very blessed...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Field of Greens

At the little farm where Joe and I volunteer on Saturday mornings, the lower field has so many rows of greens - mustards, collards, radishes, and a little bit of kale - that there is no way for us to fully harvest the crop.

The guys who manage the farm, who pay attention to the farming lore of local old-timers,  plant the field each fall from end-to-end knowing full well that many perfectly good greens will go uneaten, just like in years past. For them, even though they enjoy eating greens, the main point of that crop is not so much Food as it is Pest Control.

They call those greens their "fumigant crop", and it is planted to keep the root-knot nematodes at bay. In spring, when they are ready to plant the warm-weather crops, they just turn under all the remaining greens to let them finish their good work of pest-control. Not too surprisingly, research supports the practice of the old-timers.

The book Managing Cover Crops Profitably, published by SARE (3rd edition, 2010), which can be downloaded for FREE, cites research that demonstrates the "nematicidal effects" of Brassica-family plants like mustard greens and radishes.

When I was talking with a county resident last week about his garden, he mentioned that he'd been having trouble with root-knot nematodes in his 1.5 acre garden over the past couple of years. I told him about my friends and their field of greens, and he went silent for a minute. Then he said that he hadn't planted greens as a winter crop for the past few years because his freezer was full, but he had in each of the previous 20 or so years of gardening in that spot.

I am pretty sure that, regardless of the state of his freezer, next September my new gardening friend will be planting a whole lot of greens.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fruit of the Season, Beautiful Fruit

Ichi Ki Ke Jiro, fruiting abundantly. 

Where there are no pumpkins...
The yard keeps tossing food our way, and we keep enjoying it. It doesn't hurt that some of the food is lovely to behold.

The orange fruits of the Asian persimmon are some of the loveliest. They will show up even brighter when the leaves have fallen, but they already are very visible against the dark green foliage.

When we were trying to decide "what to do about decorating a pumpkin" this year, we ended up decorating a few of our persimmons instead, because we have lots, and they are orange.

The original plan was to just paint scary faces on a couple, then set them out by the door to stand-in for jack-o-lanterns. Joe carved one, though, and he found that the fruits already are delicious.

On Halloween, a few of our neighbors even realized that our "jacks" were persimmons!

We have not yet had a frost in our yard, but one of my friends just a little further north, in Canton, GA, has woken up to a frosty yard twice so far this fall. The distance between our homes is not huge, but there is a lot of cooling woodland in between; my town is more nearly continuous with the enormous heat-sink that is Atlanta.
One of many bees, happy that the salvia still blooms.

The local bees are happy with our current frost-free state, because flowers are still everywhere. When the first frost hits, the bees will have a bit more trouble finding pollen and nectar, because the masses of salvia and zinnia currently blooming in our yard will be gone.

Luckily for the bees, we have plenty of other plants in the yard that will bloom most of the winter, including chickweed, violets, and dandelion. Our weedy lawn supports a lot of pollinators!

Meanwhile, we have gotten so much rain that the ground is mushy. I am glad that I set my new strawberry plants in garden beds that are mounded up a bit above ground level, because those shallow-rooted plants do  not do well in soggy conditions. So far, they all look good.

From the rest of the garden, we are bringing in lettuces, kale, a whole rainbow of radishes, bok choy, cilantro, parsley, and beets, and we still have one pepper plant (a "chocolate bell") providing fresh peppers. The spinach is a bit small for bringing in, as are the cabbages, broccoli, and carrots.

I hope that all is well in other gardens!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Plant, Harvest, Process, Repeat

50 Chandler Strawberry plants, from Ison's Nursery
It is too late in my area for planting most cool season crops, but this is the month to set garlic and shallots in the garden, and last night I planted a lot of little strawberry plants that had arrived (very well packaged) on Wednesday. There are still about 20 plants that need to be set into the garden, but the ground is mostly prepared for them. 

Planting is a very hope-filled activity, and it usually involves some serious work.

We still are bringing in hilariously large quantities of peppers from the garden, along with the first of  the cool season vegetables.We've brought in bok choy and winter radishes, and the first beets are almost ready to pull. The sweet potatoes, one of the remaining summer crops, will be coming out of the ground this weekend, too. This part of gardening for me is packed with amazement and joy; always, I think "wow! this really awesome food grew in my garden!", even when the day's harvest is just one radish.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Road Trip to Monticello

Me (left), Electa (center), and Susan (right) at Monticello
A couple of weeks ago, I took a Friday off from work and drove with two friends to Monticello for the harvest festival, and Oh My Goodness we had a great time!

Electa had visited there before, but Susan and I hadn't, which is one reason we made the trip. The other is that Electa had some Georgia-heirloom hard-neck garlic that she wanted to share with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Ira was scheduled to be one of the speakers for the event.

Considering this need, how could we not go?

We arrived early enough that the morning mist hadn't cleared.
The one obstacle that we had a hard time getting past was locating a nearby hotel room. When I was calling around to make a reservation and running into many fully-booked hotels, I was amazed to think how many gardeners were planning to be at the harvest festival!

We later found out that harvest festival weekend was also a football game weekend for Virginia, and that most of the hotel reservations were for sports fans rather than gardeners. To be honest, I was a little disappointed to make that discovery, but the festival would have been pretty crowded if all those football fans had been at Monticello.

I took lots of archeology-related pics for my youngest son.
The good news is that we were able to speak with many other gardeners who actually did attend the event.  We also met seed-savers and sellers we hadn't yet known about, listened to a couple of talks, and, of course, each bought more seeds than we have space to plant.

The festival included many presentations and vendors, but it also featured some Living History people who were demonstrating how things were done/made back in Jefferson's time.

When Susan saw a Living History guy (on loan from Colonial Williamsburg) splitting a long piece of oak tree to make a basket, she was very happy, because, in addition to being a thoughtful gardener, she is a basket maker. She had been at the John Campbell Folk School for awhile this summer to learn more about using native materials in basketry.

She spent enough time watching and asking questions that the guy waited for her to come back from a presentation to let her help split the heartwood of the piece of oak tree he was working with that day. The heartwood is used to make rims and handles.
Susan got to help split the heartwood to make handle and rim.

So ingenious...
While Susan was learning more about making baskets from oak trees, Electa and I were asking people questions about their gardens: what is your soil like; what grows best for you; what are your garden's biggest challenges; which varieties do you choose, and why?

To be honest, we may have gone a little overboard on asking about other gardens, because by the time Susan caught up with us, she had already been asked if she was "part of that Marietta group" (yes, that was us!).

We had arrived at the harvest festival on the first
shuttle from the parking area, and we were among the last to leave. We really enjoyed the gardens, the people, the exhibits, and the presentations. We got the most out of the day that we could, because the very next day we were planning to drive back to Georgia. Electa and Susan are (mostly) retired, but I needed to be back at work on Monday. Luckily, my gardening friends are happy to do a crazy long drive for a one day event!

Banners with plant-related quotations hung from trees.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Muscadine Time

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been harvesting muscadines at the little farm where we do some volunteer weeding and other work, and those little Southern fruits have been a great addition to my weekday lunch basket. Hearing other people's reactions on seeing them is interesting, too. The locals all are interested in finding out where I was able to find these Southern grapes, so they can have some, too, but people from "up North" tend not to have taken to the thick skins and stronger flavor.

I am not from here, either, and it took some time to adjust, but, really, how could I not fall in love with all that wonderful fruit? The vines are nearly trouble-free, and they are very productive.The only drawback I have seen is that finding the fruit in the mass of foliage can take some time. On walking up to the trellises, not much fruit is visible. To find the most in the least amount of time, I press my face right through the foliage, as though I were snorkeling, to get the clearest view.

It probably helps that I wear glasses, which protect my eyes. Also, moving slowly, as though taking a leisurely swim over a shallow reef, helps to keep the wasps (who also are interested in all that sweet fruit) from becoming startled.

In the yard at home, harvests of summer vegetables are slowing down, and the first leaves of some  cool-season crops are coming up -- even the beets!

Hope all is going well in the other gardens out there!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Planning for More Good Food

Twenty pound "Luscious Golden" melon from our front yard.
My not updating the blog for 3 weeks doesn't mean the garden isn't still a productive and wonderful place. It is, actually, providing surprising quantities of good food, considering that it also has been a little neglected.

We are running short-staffed at work, during our busiest time of year, and work-stuff has spilled over into my non-work time. However, the bosses have interviews lined up to fill at least one vacant space, so we are hopeful that the whole "short-staffed" thing will be short-lived!

In the meantime, I am thinking more and more about the fall garden. Last weekend, I amended some areas with compost, planted seeds for chicory, beets, parsley, green onions, and one last patch of bush beans, and I started seeds (late!) in a flat for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, more beets (in case the outside seeds don't make it -- they can be finicky), and bok choy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vegetable Abundance

Yesterday's harvest from the front yard.
This is a time of abundance in the garden, which means we are busy in the kitchen. I put up tomatillo salsa in jars over the weekend, and I blanched more green beans for the freezer. Joe has kept the dehydrator full and humming with tomatoes and okra, and he's smoked some of the hot peppers, then dried them and ground them to powder to store the full, amazing flavor in tightly sealed jars.

Even though the garden still is fairly bursting with good food, it is time to begin the transition to cool season crops, which will provide fresh vegetables in winter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mid-Summer Garden

July 6 tomatoes, Rutgers  PHOTO/Amy W.
Since the beginning of the month, we have enjoyed meals that included zucchini, beans, potatoes, tomatillos, shallots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, salad peppers, and cucumbers from the summer garden.

We have pickled peppers - both Jalapeno and Poblano - and made several batches of fermented cucumber-pickles. Beans have been blanched for the freezer, and we have been giving away our extra zucchini.

We also have begun thinking about where to plant the cool season vegetables that will provide fresh food in the coming fall and winter. It seems so soon. The tomato harvest has barely begun! If there isn't a plan, though, it usually turns out that no room is available when it is time to plant the seeds for carrots, beets, lettuces, collard greens, and other cool-season crops.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Fruits for ( and some not for) North Georgia Yards

New isn't always better, especially when it comes to choosing reliably productive perennial fruits for our yards and gardens, but "the new" certainly is appealing. Here in North Georgia, we are able to grow many kinds of fruits, and some of those need very little care, but the list can feel limiting to the more adventuresome gardener.

Our little-care list of reliably productive fruits includes blackberries of many varieties, Heritage red raspberries (and Dormanred, but those are not great to eat), Rabbiteye-type blueberries, mulberries, June berries (aka: service berries), muscadine & scuppernong grapes, some varieties of plums (Methley is an old-reliable, and Auburn has developed several good varieties for the South), some pears (the old "sand pears" and a few others are quite hardy), persimmons (both American and Asian), the tart cherries like Northstar (sweet cherries don't do as well here), strawberries, and probably a few more (pawpaws, for example, would make the list if I knew of any that were very productive).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Eye of the Beholder - Bumblebee Love and Garden Update

Bumblebee on dahlia that also has fed thrips and Japanese beetles.
The bumblebee in the picture to the right doesn't care that the petals of the dahlia have been ruined by thrips and Japanese beetles. The bee is after the abundant pollen, and the petals are relatively unimportant compared to the sweet spot in the center of that amazing flower.

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