Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hanging on the The Harvest: Fall Planting

Summer is definitely on its way out. Technically, it IS fall, but I've been hanging on and calling it 'late summer'. Today is the first day that it's truly hit me, with temps in the mid-50s, that fall has crept in to stay. My flipflops are soon to be replaced with socks and shoes--a switch that, to anyone who knows me, marks my final farewell to summer. And believe me, I don't ditch those flip-flops until it's so cold I can't feel my toes while wearing them. My goodbye is long and lingering.

We have had so much fun this summer--swimming, swinging, climbing, running--all the typical outdoor activity. We have also loved checking on the garden every single day. The kids took such an interest in everything about the garden, just as I had hoped; in fact, they would not let a day go by without reminding ME that we should go and check on things. So many potential blog posts came and went without being written--but being outside with the garden often trumped coming in to the computer to actually write about it. . We learned an incredible amount for our first year in the garden!

The summer harvest was meager, but not bad for our first year. These are just estimates from memory:
6 or 7 green peppers
8 zucchini
untold dozens of yellow pear tomatoes
10 beefsteak tomatoes
3 cilantro plants
dozen or so jalepeno
3 or 4 pounds of green beans
a few cupfuls of peas

And some things that are still in the garden, finishing up:
2 pumpkins
2 kohlrabi
dozens of habenero (which are mysteriously NOT hot)
16 onions
at least 12 beefsteak and 20 pear tomatoes that are refusing to ripen

When it's all written out, it seems impressive! I'm proud of the efforts the kids made to keep the garden thriving, giving us all this food!

BUT HEY! We are not quitting for the season, yet.
According to several sources I've checked, including an article I just finished reading in this regional gardening publication, right now is the perfect time to be growing beets, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips.

Last week we tore out the spent green bean plants and pushed a bunch of peas into the soil, hoping for a fall harvest. We put some lettuce seeds, which, like the peas, we had leftover from our spring planting (our spring lettuce never succeeded), into the garden as well.

A couple weeks ago, we took out our trusty mini-greenhouse and got some caggabe and radish seeds planted. I wanted to have them established so that we could transplant them into the garden, perhpas giving them a headstart, a hardier beginning. Peas and lettuce supposedly do better NOT being tranplanted, which is why they went straight to the garden soil. Cabbage and radish (along with some various flowers) were the only seeds I could find, after searching at least 5 stores...apparently the gardeners who plant fall crops plan ahead and buy the seeds in the spring! I was so disappointed, especially after reading about all that variety we COULD be attempting to grow for fall. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I suppose the cabbage and radishes will be our perfect first attempt!

Here we are, planting seeds to hopefully tranplant to the garden soon:

Only a few days later, we had the excitement of green popping out! Here are the fall babies, just a week after sowing them in the greenhouse!

As the temps continue to lower and fall becomes more bitter, we will have to learn ways to keep our fall harvest safe and thriving. I am already in the process of figuring out some sort of cold frame (like a winter greenhouse) for the garden. I am eager to see if we can have some success at growing food before heavy frosts and blankets of snow replace the all the green that is still hanging on in the garden!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Leave It Be!

Last week, as we were reaching into the branches of our now-montrous tomato plants, we jumped back...our hands brushed past this thing and gave us a startle:

Once we (okay, mostly I) got over the initial 'ewww' factor, I took a close look. I had read about this very thing months before, when fellow gardeners were having outbreaks of tomato hornworm. The hooked horn hanging from this blackened carcass is a dead-giveaway...this thing had once crawled around our tomato plants looking something like this:

tomato hornworm larva  (12646 bytes)

Oh, eww. I'm all about nature, but these things really, really make me grimace. Probably mostly because I know that they are capable of destroying whole crops of tomatoes by eating all the leaves and stems from the plants. And on top of that, they are UGLY.

I had carefully looked for hornworms after Aunt Casey (fellow gardener and my sister-in-law) sent me pictures of some particularly huge and horrible looking ones in her tomatoes. At the time, I didn't find any. I did internet searches to arm myself with knowledge should we have an outbreak. We never did have an outbreak of them, and even after finding this single, very dead hornworm, I haven't found another. I have been a little more cautious (or should I say, squeamish?) as I reach into the plants, though, because the thought of brushing up against a hormworm really makes me squirm. The kids have been hoping to see a live one, but I am really okay with just the single, dead, mummy-looking specimen.

So, why does our mummy hornworm have little white caccoons all over it?

The caccoons are future braconid wasps.
Polistes wasp

They have a nasty way of laying their eggs on hornworms..eggs that hatch into hungry larva that burrow into the hornworm and eat its insides before making a caccoon. Eww, again. But this time, also...HOORAY! Anything to save the tomatoes! Apparently, this wasp not only likes hornworm larvae, but also aphids, cabbage looper, other garden caterpillars. Eggs from braconid wasps are even sold commercially, they are so beneficial for pest control in the garden.
I've always been a little afraid of wasps, but this knowledge--along with the fact that wasps are also amazing pollinators--makes me respect them a bit more. That doesn't mean I won't scream when one hovers and zooms in close to my face...but maybe I will scream less loudly?
The title of this post is LEAVE IT BE, and if you come upon a hornworm that's been renovated into a wasp nursery, that is what you should do. You want those wasps to live and thrive in your garden, as fellow bodygaurds to your tomatoes!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guerrilla Gardening

It's Johnny Appleseed Festival time! This weekend, my family will make its yearly trek over to the rolling hills tucked in by the Coliseum, where we will battle crowds, bees...and our own overwhelming urge to buy food from every single booth that we walk by.

Caramel corn, funnel cakes, corn on the cob dripping with butter, giant turkey legs, chili, pickles, roasted almonds, root beer, ham and beans, sausage on a stick...and of course EVERYTHING apple: cider, crisp, butter, sliced with carmel, fritters, pie, juice, sauce.

If you are in Fort Wayne and you are also coming out to fight the crowds, don't forget to check out the farmer's markets, along the back end of the festival nearest the Coliseum parking lot. According to this brochure/map, there are 11 different markets with plants and fresh produce (and I'm assuming, lots of APPLES).

Okay, so. What does the festival have to do with the title of this post? Guerrilla Gardening?

John Chapman, the man behind the festival, is almost larger than life. His story has continued to capture our imaginations over 150 years after his death. We all picture him as a drifter, barefoot, wearing tattered clothes, with a tin pot on his head--details fit for great folklore. After a life of wandering the frontier that would later become Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, planting apple trees everywhere he went, he landed in our own city, Fort Wayne, planted a whole lot more trees, and died in 1845. His grave is in Archer Park.

What I find fascinating is Johnny's methods. His goal was simple--to spread the joy of the apples that he loved to eat. He took apple seeds from cider presses in Pennsylvania and travelled, planting apple orchards on lands that were not his, and that he may not ever see again, all for the sake of leaving trees behind. He became a known figure in his time, and stories spread among frontier peoples about his kind and gentle spirit. Some stories claim that he returned to his orchards to collect profits, but there seems more evidence that his motives were not profit.

John Chapman, forever known as Johnny Appleseed, is the very definition of a guerrilla gardener! Guerrilla gardening is a quiet revolution that is gaining popularity. I think Wikipedia has a great definition for it:

Guerrilla gardening is gardening on another person's land without permission. It encompasses a very diverse range of people and motivations, from the enthusiastic gardener who spills over their legal boundaries to the highly political gardener who seeks to provoke change through direct action. It has implications for land rights, land reform. The land that is guerrilla gardened is usually abandoned or neglected by its legal owner and the guerrilla gardeners take it over ("squat") to grow plants. Guerrilla gardeners believe in re-considering land ownership in order to reclaim land from perceived neglect or misuse and assign a new purpose to it.

Some guerrilla gardeners carry out their actions at night, in relative secrecy, to sow and tend a new vegetable patch or flower garden. Some garden at more visible hours to be seen by their community. It has grown into a form of proactive activism or pro-activism.

I remember a few years ago, a woman in Fort Wayne was mentioned in the news because of her dedication to a small patch of beautiful flowers that she tended--in all places--on a bit of dirt in the median of State Blvd. I didn't take much interest in it at the time, except when I drove past the spot (the intersection of State and Spy Run) and thought the woman must be crazy. The intersection is busy and scary, and the patch of flowers seemed drowned in a sea of ugly concrete. Years later, I get it. A small patch of dirt, transformed into a tiny garden. In this case, to add a splash of beauty and solace to drivers who may be sitting in the rush hour traffic, cursing the wait, needing a little distraction. Or for those crossing the intersection on foot/bike, a little oasis in passing that might bring a smile to their faces. I totally, completely get it.

I can't find the article now of that particular story, but these images from google remind me of that little spot:

Guerrilla gardening as a movement is catching on, and I can't think of a more peaceful way to make use of otherwise misused/underused land. It's illegal, but as far as I know, no one has ever been arrested or prosecuted for their rogue garden tactics. Some guerrilla gardeners simply scatter the seeds (seed 'bombs' are one way to throw seeds into an empty lot or over a fence) and never return, while some guerrilla gardeners return to the plot they created time and again to tend it.

I can't help it...I LOVE the idea. I admit I can already think of a lot of uncared-for spaces around me that could use a little guerrilla gardening.

And I'll be thinking about the idea today as I enjoy my Johnny Appleseed Festival staple--funnel cake--in honor of a man who used guerrilla gardening (though it didn't have a name back then) to help bring apples to us all.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Our Prolific Pear Tomatoes

I mentioned our pear tomatoes in an earlier blog post. I think that this amazing tomato plant deserves its own moment in the spotlight.

First of all, it has grown taller than any other plant we have in the garden. Here, Brady demonstrates its amazing height by standing next to it:

In the above pic, you can see bits of yellow poking out here and there. Once you get closer, it's almost shocking how many little bunches of fruit are hanging, in various stages of ripeness.

We harvest a handful of these juicy, delicious pears EVERY SINGLE day! Sometimes three of four of us have to fill our hands...bowls...shirt bottoms pulled up into a pocket--whetever is handy as we pass by and notice every more bunches of yellow pears.

These tomatoes are incredibly easy to pick; in fact, they like to drop off the plant with the slightest touch. This means that when little hands reach in for a ripe golden tomato, several green tomatoes may fall off with it. That's okay! We bring them all in, and the green turns to yellow in only a few days.

I have lost count of the hundreds of cute little pears we have eaten from this plant. It has been such a success in the garden, that I think we will definitely have to include it in next summer's garden!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Reading Corner-- The Curious Garden

What nice illustrations this book has! We look at the tiny details on each page over and over every time we read this story.

A little boy named Liam lives in a city that looks quite drab, and has no gardens, trees, or greenery of any kind. Even though there is no color, Liam loves to be outside, and he is VERY curious. On one of his walks he comes upon a tiny patch of wildflowers and weeds on an abandoned railway.

He begins to tend this small wild garden, and it grows beyond all imagination. Liam learns all he can about gardening and begins growing patches of flowers, vegetables and greenery all around his city. Others catch on, and soon his city is bursting with new life!

The kids noticed that many of the roofs in the city had grass, flowers, and gardens growing on them. They wondered if that was really possible. We began to talk about how sometimes the only space in a big city to grow things IS on the roof! The really cool thing is, just a couple weeks later I found an article in Organic Gardening that showed a real home with a garden growing on TOP of the porch.

Now THAT is cool!

Click here for the article that goes with the pic of this rooftop garden

Run to your local library and check it out!
Or click below to find your own copy.

Organic Methods Hold Water

Here is a good article that explains why organic farming/gardening...which aims to protect the soil, helps fend off some of the devestating effects of drought.

Organic Methods Hold Water

The Rodale Institute celebrates the success of its 30-year Farming Systems Trial.

Photography by Andrew Norelli

When rain gets scarce, we turn a tap, and water flows readily from hoses and sprinklers in yards across the nation, making it easy for us to take the resource for granted. But with climatologists predicting weather extremes in all corners of the globe in the next century, wise water use will become even more critical for all American gardeners and farmers. Hardiness zones have already changed in just the past 20 years; warm-region growing conditions are moving farther and farther north. And drier conditions are racing north, as well. Drought already costs U.S. citizens $6 billion to $8 billion a year on average, and according to a study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, we could face extreme drought within just 30 years.

This could mean devastating crop failures, water shortages, and widespread water restrictions. With a warmer, drier environment on the horizon, turning on the hose or sprinkler to quench a thirsty garden might not be an option.

In response to the changing climate, the big three chemical-producing companies—DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta—are in a heated race to be the first to release a drought-tolerant variety of corn. Both genetically modified and standard-bred hybrids are in the works. They may claim feeding an ever-expanding world population as their altruistic motivation, but making millions from drought-stricken farmers makes for a lucrative incentive: Feeding the bottom line is any public corporation’s duty.

While drought-tolerant varieties are a valuable piece of the puzzle, another solution already exists—one that farmers and gardeners can practice immediately, without paying for specialized seeds. And it’s a solution that has scientific research to back it.

The Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial (FST) has been tracking the performance of organically grown grain crops (such as corn and soybeans) and conventional, synthetic-chemical-reliant grain crops for the past 30 years. As America’s longest-running side-by-side comparison of these farming systems, the FST has revealed that crops grown organically are truly healthier and hardier in the long run, and better able to cope with weather extremes. Organic fields in the FST produce just as much as the chemical-reliant fields, despite claims that organic farming uses more resources to produce less food. But it is the performance of the organic fields during drought years that is truly amazing.

In four out of five drought years, the organically grown corn produced significantly more than the conventionally grown corn. The organic corn of the FST was even more successful under drought conditions than the drought-tolerant seed varieties were in the industry trials. The Rodale Institute’s organically managed fields produced between 28.4 percent and 33.7 percent more corn than conventionally managed fields under drought conditions.

Monsanto boasted that its genetically modified drought-tolerant corn was “one of our most significant R&D milestones,” producing between 6.7 percent and 13.4 percent more under drought conditions than other corn varieties. DuPont touts hybrids that produce 5 percent more on average, and Syngenta, which is leading the pack, has managed to produce 15 percent more with its drought-tolerant seeds.

So why does the FST’s organic crop outperform the chemical crop? “The current toxic-chemical approach to growing our food destroys the life of the soil with pesticides, herbicides, and high levels of inorganic fertilizers,” says Elaine Ingham, chief scientist at the Rodale Institute. “They are destroying the support system, developed by nature over the last 4 billion years, that grows healthy plants.”

That natural support system of organic practice is what makes those crops more drought-tolerant. Fertile soil, rich in organic matter and microbes, creates a more stable environment for plants. Rather than crop failure in times of stress, the organically cultivated plants can rely on the soil to provide what the weather has not.

“The organic matter in soil acts like a sponge, providing water reserves to plants during drought periods and preventing water from running off the soil surface in times of heavy rains,” says Rita Seidel, agroecologist and FST project leader at the Rodale Institute. “This organic matter has significantly increased in the FST organic fields and is actually diminishing in the conventional fields.”

Even in times of severe water shortage, not only can organic fields produce a more successful crop, but they continue to contribute to our drinking water reserves. In the FST, the organic fields recharged groundwater at rates 15 to 20 percent higher than the conventional fields.

Whether you are cultivating 40 acres or 40 square feet, compost, mulches, and cover crops create a well-balanced, fertile soil that can absorb more water, which buffers plants from drought stress. And avoiding toxic herbicides and pesticides and synthetic fertilizers keeps the community of soil microbes actively processing organic matter.

Thirty years of research proves that organic farming and gardening grows food and grows it well even during extreme weather conditions. Good news, for in the face of a warmer, drier future, the more we can rely on our soil rather than our hoses, the better off we’ll be.