The first distribution week is behind us, so let's see what's going on in the garden as I prepare for next week and beyond!
We arrived back from our vacation to discover that the tomatoes had grown over a foot in our absence, and the bugs had moved in!
The Colorado Potato Beetles had infested the potato patch. The only way to really deal with them without spraying is to hand pick them off the plants. Luckily, they do not move fast. Or, at all. So I just knock them into a bucket of water and let the suckers drown. I spent 3 hours working my way up and down the almost 300 feet of potato plants, painstakingly looking for bugs and their eggs. Hopefully that knocks them back enough that I can do weekly maintenance without too much leaf loss. Luckily, they don't affect the potatoes themselves, just the leaves, so as long as leaves aren't totally devastated, the potatoes will be fine (unless something else gets them).
Much more worrisome is the infestation of cucumber beetles and squash bugs. These guys love anything in the curcurbit family (cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, melons). They totally decimated my recently transplanted cucumbers. Only 4 of the 12 plants survived, and they have been brutalized. I have heard from other growers across the country that the cucumber beetles and squash bugs are especially bad this year. I have never seen them before, and there is definitely an infestation.
Given that I abhor the application of chemicals of any kind , my main weapon against pests has been the use of row cover and protective netting (all the white tunnels covering my beds). These usually work pretty great - until your plant has flowers that have to be pollinated. Then you have to remove the protection, which lets in the evil cucumber beetles as well as the helpful pollinators.
I will be employing diatomaceous earth (fossilized diatoms - tiny aquatic organisms) to help combat the beetles and squash bugs. The fossilized diatoms have very sharp edges (on a microscopic level), and when bugs walk through them, it cuts up their exoskeletons and they become dehydrated and die. Not a pleasant way to go
perhaps, but that's what you get for eating my plants! As a last resort, I may also employ an organic pesticide (Spinosad), created from soil bacteria. The problem with these methods, is illustrated in the picture of the squash blossom above teeming with cucumber beetles on the outside of the blossom. And if you peer inside the blossom, what do you see?? Two honey bees. We definitely *don't* want to hurt them. So I will have to carefully apply the diatomaceous earth to the leaves and the ground underneath (hopefully to catch the hatching squash bugs, whose eggs are laid in the soil), but *not* on any blossoms. And the soap spray will be applied in the late evening, when the honey bees have all gone to bed. However, none of these methods will be super effective, and I can only hope to knock the populations back a bit so the plants have a little more of a chance. So what this means is that the supply of cucumbers and squash will be limited this year. I have already started another batch of cucumber plants and summer squash inside, and will plant those out and aggressively protect them until they are big. But the winter squash, which need a long time to mature their fruit, may not be very productive this year.
Speaking of honey bees, I unsuccessfully attempted to keep bees for the previous 3 years. I had decided not to even attempt it this year, when one of the farm members connected me with her friend who is an amateur beekeeper (thanks Sue!). So she brought bees over and installed them in my hive. And she has proved to be farm more competent at it than I ever was, and they have expanded into a third box! (and you can see from the fresh looking cedar on that third box, that I never manged to keep the bees alive long enough to need it). We are keeping our fingers crossed that there might be enough honey to share some with us this year!
Note to self: do not try to cram a summer vacation in between the last day of school, and the first week of harvesting vegetable shares. Very. Bad. Idea.
Let's just say, there has been a lot of stress getting everything ready to be gone for 10 days. The irrigation systems had to finally be completed, and put on timers (let's hope the timers actually work, since I didn't get a full day to test all the zones), absolutely everything needed to be planted out and/or seeded. Row covers, bird netting, and insect netting needed to be put out and secured. Oh, and the house had to be cleaned enough for a house-sitter to not be disgusted, and clothes and stuff actually packed for our road trip to Maine.
I am still not happy with the germination rates of the direct seeded root crops or leafy greens. I am really hoping that everything grows in big leaps and bounds while I am gone (and more critters don't feast on what does grow). It seems to be a more challenging year with regards to munching critters. I did put out some organic slug control to protect the leafy greens, and row cover to protect from flying insects (and hopefully some four-legged invaders as well). In general, the transplants are looking pretty darn good though. We'll see how things look when I get back!
Last year, refrigeration was kind of an issue during harvest days. We have a little mini-fridge, and our regular household fridge. And I found myself spending a lot time rearranging the fridge, delicately balancing bags of greens on top of our normal fridge contents (and hoping they didn't topple out every time the fridge was opened), and shoving squash in unusual places.
As I have been researching and brainstorming how to handle refrigeration this year, the most economical way turns out to be building a walk-in cooler from scratch. That's right. Build a walk-in cooler. A recent innovation in the market gardening/small farm world is a Cool Bot. You connect this up to a regular window air conditioner, and voila! It tricks the air conditioner into cooling the space down to refrigerator temperatures. So then you just need a small space to cool. After much internal debate (and maybe a wee bit of external debate with my husband), I decided to build this small space in an existing small space that has been mostly unused. Meant to house a hawk (my oldest was obsessed with becoming a falconer for many years), it served as a home to goats during my brief foray into goat ownership (turns out, escape-artist goats do not mesh well with hot-tub owning neighbors), and after a brief sojourn as storage for excess gardening supplies, now, it will house a small walk-in cooler, and packing area for vegetable shares. So, after some brief de-construction, we (let's be honest, it was mostly Aaron, who faced with my incompetence in planning a build, jumps in to run the show with my meager assistance) built a new floor (over the gravel portion meant for a hawk to live in), and framed up a small room. The room will be as insulated as I can make it, with standard fiberglass insulation in the floors, walls, and ceiling, and then covered with 2-inch thick polystyrene sheets.
We made pretty good progress over the course of a weekend, which was really one full day of work. I still need to cut out the hole for the AC unit, and add the polystyrene. But we are getting close!
Did I mention how awesome Clint and Jess were back a few posts ago when they helped spread compost and manure? The reason they were at the farm to begin with, is that I asked Clint to make me a custom garden cart, based on some free plans provided here. And he did it! The main idea behind this cart is that the tires are wide enough apart, and it's tall enough, that I can straddle the 30-inch wide beds and push it *over* shorter crops. This means I can use it for moving my transplants as I work down a row, and also for harvesting shorter crops. I love it! And I've found some other uses for it as well...like moving logs around when inoculating logs with mushroom spawn (a little experiment I am trying).
It worked beautifully to transplant all my starts when combined with the Stand 'n Plant transplanter. I thought I had taken a picture while using the transplanter, but if I did, I can't find it. I am thinking up other ways to make it even more useful. Including adding a bracket so I can put our decrepit beach umbrella up to shade the plants as I am harvesting (but not me, only the plants. I only care about the plants). And putting some hooks on the side of the box to carry harvest equipment....and making a box with a screen so I can sift compost through it...the possibilities seem endless.
But what was I talking about? Right. Transplants are in! Peppers, summer squash, winter squash, melons, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and sweet potatoes!
You remember all that warm weather we were having in April? Me too. Remember how it snowed recently? Let's just say this has not been the best spring for gardening. I have had really poor germination on everything I direct seeded (carrots, turnips, beets, kale, lettuce) due to the sudden dip in temperatures, so those crops will be a little light or absent for the first several shares.
Due to this unpredictable weather, I postponed putting out my transplants for as long as I could. The tomatoes were so tall they were hitting the fluorescent lights they were growing under. So, I had to get those into the ground as soon as possible. Luckily, they were going in the hoophouse, which provides them a little more protection in case of big temperature swings.
So I planted out the 120 tomato plants I grew from seed. I really wasn't expecting so many to germinate and grow well...but they did. So, there are a lot of tomatoes. A. Lot.
They are spaced closer together than I would like, because I still wanted to get them all in the hoophouse. We'll see if the close spacing affects their production at all.
With the warm weather, trees are blooming, and peas are getting planted! And the first planting of carrots!
Lucky for me, the warmish winter means that bed preparation can start in early April, since the ground is not that frozen - and I actually busted out some short-sleeved shirts while I did it!
A combination of activities has been taking place - adding horse manure from the neighbor's horses, compost (from Tuthill Farms in Whitmore Lake), a fertilizer mix (a variety of ground-up rock, kelp, and seedmeal), and wood ash from our woodstove to the beds. After all the amendments are added, I then stomp a pitchfork into the ground and lift it a bit to loosen up the soil and allow those amendments to work themselves a little deeper into the ground. Then, after all of that is done, I use the rotary harrow attachment on my two-wheel tractor to mix it all in and make the bed smooth and flat (or as smooth and flat as it can be with clumps of clay in it).
You might have noticed that my "soil" looks suspiciously like clay. That's because it is. Most of where I have been growing was decimated during our house construction, when not only was the clay excavated from our basement spread around on the fields, the clay from the septic tank drainfield was as well. And even though the topsoil was supposedly spread back on top, it didn't seem to survive the excavation to bury our geothermal loops. So....I shovel. A. Lot. I add organic matter however I can, and eventually, I hope to make these field beds as dark and rich as the garden beds I have been amending for 9 years.
Oh, and after all this was done, I put wood chips in between the rows. This suppresses weeds, gives me a nice path to walk on, and make worms and fungi happy. They break down the wood chips in the process, which builds the soil too.
Plants from the solanceae family - potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, etc. are not supposed to be grown in the same place for at least 3 years. This is meant to break pest and diseases cycles, which can hang around in the soil. Since tomatoes and potatoes are some of my favorite things to eat (and grow), I find myself making new beds on a regular basis, just to rotate them around to new ground. This ground should have been prepped in the fall. But it wasn't. As is so common for this venture...what can be put off 'Till Tomorrow is. Until it can't be anymore.
Well shoot. How did that happen? I missed like 5 weeks of updates. Oops. So, what has been happening lately? Mostly, a lot of summer squash, which is happily succumbing to powdery mildew. And the cucumbers finally gave up -- or, rather, I gave up on the cucumbers and pulled them all out. The tomatoes are going like gang-busters right now, as you can see below.
There are surprisingly few beds in production right now. So last week, I took the opportunity to reconfigure the home garden to mimic my field beds. So I converted my beds which were previously something crazily hard to manage (like, 4 ft by 25 ft), to 30-inch wide, 75ish feet long beds. Satisfied both my weeding and digging proclivities! And the week was fairly cool too!
It is the opposite of fairly cool now, so I am hoping the melons, peppers, and tomatoes will be ripening up like crazy at this point. The lettuce beds are straggling along, and I am skeptical they will last the final 3 weeks remaining in the season. But the kale and chard are still going strong!
I planted out strawberries just last week. Typically, strawberry crowns are planted in the spring, but since I was too busy to manage, I am trying an experimental fall planting and hoping for ample production next year. I planted over 100 plants, and now that the fence is "finished", I am pretty hopeful the deer don't get in there and devastate them like they have in years past.
The productive pear tree was too productive this year, and one of the branches snapped from the weight of the fruit. The apple trees have put out one of the best crops to date (not that that is saying much), and I am itching to hand out some apples in the shares.
Yeah, yeah. So I missed a week. I don't even know what my excuse is...oh wait, I remember. We went to Cleveland last weekend. And Ohio just sucks the lifeblood right out of you. Therefore, no time or energy to take pictures or craft one of these amazing blog posts.
This weekend, as you may recall, was hot and humid. Which also sucks the lifeblood right out of you. I did manage to prune the tomatoes during the period of cloud cover Saturday afternoon. And drown some potato beetles. And do some weeding. Have I mentioned I love weeding? It is my favorite thing to do in the garden. I'm not sure what that says about my state of mind, but ripping plants out of the ground is deeply satisfying to me. I'd rather weed than plant, or harvest, or just about anything else in the garden. Except digging. I do love digging.
I also managed to pick 5 gallons (!) of beans on Saturday. And almost another 5 gallons tonight. That is a *lot* of beans. I really hope you people meant it when you said you could not get enough beans. I have officially run out of fridge space, so I need to process a bunch of carrot rejects and other things taking up fridge space right now to make room for more beans. Or maybe I just need to buy another fridge. And another chest freezer--because we went a little crazy with the strawberries this year--75 lbs of crazy.
And now, time for some pictures...