Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Three W's

Asparagus Yard-Long Beans 
It's about 5 p.m. on a Thursday as I sit here and write this. I've got an iced coffee, some water, and my arms and neck are caked in dirt. I haven't showered yet after a day in the garden; I figured I would try and get ya'll an update of how things are going. We've been hot and humid just about every day of July. There have been a few days that brought pop-up thunderstorms in the area, but none directly overhead. Only one day has yielded rain in the past two weeks, and we only got a quarter of an inch that day. But some spectacular lightning. The clouds have been spectacular, as well... those dramatic Midwest thunderheads towering over the green and rather flat landscape. Alas, little rain. There are chances for rain over the next two days, and I really hope we get a good soaking. Earlier this summer I worried about weeds getting the advantage in the rain. But really, this dry weather has been a boon for the crabgrass and the morning glories. Although I love a blue morning glory flower, I hate finding a pepper or tomato plant being strangled by their vines...

Borage, up close & personal
Most every day over the past few weeks has been spent immersed in the Three W's: Weeds, Water & Worms. Weeding in this garden could be a 24/7 job. Since I can't work 24 hours a day, especially when the heat index is 105 or higher, the weeds are definitely getting the upper hand. Today, for example, I weeded six beds rather thoroughly. Pulling up crabgrass by the roots, snipping tougher grasses at the ground level, untwining morning glories. Giving tomatoes and peppers and okra a bit of breathing room and more sunlight. Giving them more sunlight, though, means needing to give them more water. As I weed, I mulch the plants with the weeds I just pulled up (unless it's a morning glory. Those get tossed aside.) And then I water. You may recall that in preparation for the discing that enabled me to plant in the first place, I had to pull out all the old irrigation tubing. I haven't replaced it yet, since the design of the garden is not in long rows. I planted in smallish generally rectangular beds with mixed crops in each. This design has proven to be a nightmare in regards to weeding and watering. For a while, I had been watering with a watering can, figuring that this gets water only on the plants that need it, and not on their leaves to prevent scorching. Last week and the week before, I resorted to watering with a regular sprinkler, not caring about anything more than getting the plants some water. This was when the heat wave was particularly intense. It took five hours to water the entire garden this way. This week, I discovered buckets. I have two large buckets I've been filling with water and lugging to the far-flung reaches of the garden, and then watering heavily and directly, the plants. This is helping the plants by getting them more water than I had been delivering. And it's giving me an awesome upper-body workout! Although I am sore, both the plants and I are benefiting! I have been alternating between watering tomatoes, peppers & okra on one day and squashes, beans and cucumbers the other. Herbs get it every day. This seems to be working. I am hoping to get a good and solid rainfall so I can reset my watering schedule, and instead of watering by type, which leads me all over the garden, I can water one section of the garden daily, regardless of type. This will mean not having to carry water as far. As the buckets fill, I have been getting on my hands and knees and weeding and looking for worms. Over the past few weeks, I have been finding very few tomato hornworms. But the second brood of the season seems to have hatches: over the past two days alone, I have found and killed over two dozen of the fat, green critters. Many of them have been small, but today I killed a couple of particularly large ones. One entire tomato plant has been stripped to its stalks... I am hoping it recovers. But these tomato plants are laden with fruit. I am trying to keep the water even in the hopes of stopping the blossom end-rot I've been seeing on the tomatoes. We've eaten a few of these damaged and doomed tomatoes, and they've been so tasty.
Some curling peppers...
Zinnias adding some color to the garden.

When I haven't been taking care of the three W's, I have been doing a few other things out in the garden: I've been enjoying the quiet. Well, it's not quiet. There are birds and hummingbirds and bees and mosquitoes and cicadas and rabbits and the wind in the grass and the woods lining the garden. On many occasions over the past few weeks, I've been nearly overwhelmed by the absolute bucolic bliss of the garden. I've been harvesting. Blackberries, zucchinis, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, apples, pears, carrots, the last of the lettuce, turnips, potatoes, lemon squash, ronde de nice squash, lemon cucumbers, countless and endless beans, and zinnias. And I've been admiring all the beauty of the garden: the okra plants, especially, with their gorgeous almost-tropical flowers and their snaking fruit. And the huckleberries are ripening and are beautiful. And the zinnias, the marigolds, the petunias and the cosmos. The beautiful borage plants, with their sky-blue teardrop flowers. And I've been selling at the farmers' market. We found out this week that the market is full. Which means for the folks who come on a week-by-week basis, it's first-come-first-serve. Some folks have tomatoes already, but they've either grown them in a hoop house, which is basically covering the plants with a semi-permanent structure directly in the garden, or they've been grown in a greenhouse... everybody else is in the same position: being taunted by the slow ripening tomatoes every day. This past week, I basically sold out of produce by 9 a.m. At that point, Rich & I decided to pack it in and head home to some air-conditioning... Until I headed back out into the humid garden to tackle the Three W's...
Sunflowers against the barn.

Some of the first Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes.
If any of you are in the area and want a little workout, the garden's always open and the weeds seem to always be there for pulling. I'm just saying...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another long overdue update!

The blackberries are ripening.
July 6 - First Day at the Market!
Some of the produce...
 It's been a while since I've posted. Ten days, in fact. What have I been doing during that time? Well, mostly weeding. As of this morning, I feel that I am perhaps a half-a-step ahead of the weeds. But with the forecast the next week to be brutally hot and humid, the weeds may get the upper hand again. It's a tough job trying to keep the garden weeded. Mostly I'm dealing with crabgrass, which is at times almost impossibly to pull out. So we've resorted to the weed-whacker and garden clippers. Both work amazingly well. When I've not been killing unwanted plants, I've been killing unwanted bugs: mostly Japanese Beetles on the beans and Tomato Hornworms on the tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. And some kind of long, green worm on my four o'clocks. Four o'clocks are my favorite flower, and never in my life have I ever seen anything eat them. But I guess neither Denver nor Greece have the plethora of bug life that East Central Illinois does. Something's been defoliating my hollyhocks too. Sometimes organic gardening sucks! When I've not been killing weeds or squishing bugs, I've been watering. Tomatoes and peppers mostly, and yesterday the entire garden. That took seven hours. I did spend some of that time killing things. But mostly just watering. We really haven't had any rain in well over a week, and although the air is mighty humid, sometimes the plants need a little bit of water proper. And, when I haven't been pulling up weeds, smooshing bugs, or watering the plants, I've been harvesting the fruits of all that labor. The last of the lettuce, the last of the radishes, apples, blackberries, cucumbers, zucchini, ronde de nice squash, beans, and herbs. So much basil and cilantro, I'm having trouble keeping up. But it's amazing how much these plants are producing. And everyday, there are more and more flowers: on the beans, on the squash, the cucumbers, and on the tomatoes and peppers. The okra seem to grow six inches a day. And almost every flower I've planted out in the garden is blooming. It's really become quite a lovely place to spend a hot, humid and buggy evening!
The rest of the produce...

And I've been to the Charleston Farmers' Market twice now. It starts at 6 a.m., really gets busy around 7-8, and then again around 9-9:30. I've got  a permanent spot on the west side of the courthouse. I'm next to another Growers Association member who sells flowers and a farmer who's been selling greenhouse tomatoes. His name is Brian, and the word got out that his tomatoes are delicious. This past Wednesday he had a line most of the morning. On the first week, I had mixed greens, zucchini, ronde de nice squash, turnips, radishes, basil, along with a few handfuls of other fresh herbs. I sold out of the squash, half the zucchini, half the basil and most of the lettuce, as well as all of the turnips and radishes. For the second week, I had ronde de nice squash, zucchinis, cucumbers, basil and a few bundles of fresh herbs. I sold out of everything but the bundles of herbs and a few of the zucchini. One woman wanted to buy a bundle of fresh parsley, that I had priced at $1. Once she found out how much I was charging she told her husband to put his dollar away, that she'd buy it at County Market. He tried to protest, but she wasn't hearing any of it. Perhaps my parsley is a bit high, but overall, I think my prices are just about right. Working at the farmers' market is fun. It's nice to see all the people out shopping in our little town. It's interesting to watch people shop. How some will approach the stand and do all they can not to catch your eye. And walk away quickly once I say "Good Morning". Or those who stop, talk, and fondle the produce, and ask questions. Even if they don't purchase, I like those people. I feel that there are some folks who think shopping at the farmers market will bring them a bargain for produce, and others who shop there to seek out higher-quality produce, along with varieties they won't find at the local grocery store. And others are there to chat and gossip and visit with friends. I try not to take it personally when someone doesn't buy my zucchinis or lettuce, knowing they're weighing price, quality, size, along with whether they know the farmer or not. But for me, I know all the sweat and toil that went into each vegetable. I'm proud to offer such high-quality produce, yet want to offer people value for the quality. It's a tough line to walk. But it's definitely fun to be out there, offering produce and seeing my friends and the shoppers of Charleston!
Rich, weed-whacking the garden.

July 13, the second week at the market!
I've got friends arriving this afternoon for a quick visit, and we're planning a Bastille Day/Happy (the dog)'s Birthday Party for this evening. Grilling some food, playing some bags and croquet and enjoying a bonfire. This may be our first party without inclement weather since arriving here in Hutton, and we're pretty excited about it. This is also one of the last warm, not hot, and not humid days forecast for the area for the foreseeable future. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you on the Square!
Cabbage Patch Before Weeding.
Cabbage Patch After Weeding!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

 Happy Independence Day, everybody! Now I'm not a huge fan of fireworks, but Saturday night, we were treated to one of my favorite fireworks displays: a lightning storm. It was actually a rather severe storm that very slowly rolled through. These pictures I took around 8:15 or so, at sunset, just as the storm was building. That evening, Rich & I ate a delicious meal inside, and decided we wanted to head out to the front porch for a few more cocktails and a couple of rounds of Farkel (a very fun dice game we've become addicted to!) Once we stepped outside, the first thing we noticed was all the electricity around. In the yard and garden, countless fireflies. And reflect from the northern and western skies into the air all around the house: endless flashes of lightning. We played out on the porch for about an hour until we realized that the storm was approaching and the still-constant lightning was more and more accompanied by louder and louder thunder. We retreated indoors and continued playing at the dining room table. Within the hour, the storm was all around us: now more than lightning and thunder, but also wind and hail and what would be two inches of rainfall. The storm continued unabated and with near-steady lightning until after we went to sleep.  Judging by the time on the alarm clock in the morning, our power went off at about 2:30, which means that this storm lasted well over six hours! Now that's what I call a fireworks display!

Because of all the rain (it rained overnight again last night), I was late in getting into the garden today. But I did get to spend a few hours weeding and harvesting and killing tomato hornworms. I got about six of them today. I'm so glad Alvin showed me to look for their droppings on the newspaper mulch around my tomatoes. Once I see droppings, I know there's a worm on that plant. And, by the size of the droppings, I know whether I'm looking for a big or little worm. Brilliant! I harvested four more zucchini today, as well as the first two cucumbers (one Homemade Pickle and one Marketmore 76) as well as the first kohlrabi. To be honest, I wasn't sure what the kohlrabi was. I planted them intermixed with beets and mustard greens, but I've never seen a kohlrabi before, and thought it was either a turnip or a beet that didn't get as red as it should have. The kohlrabi is about the size of a beet, but a nice purple. I can't wait to eat it and see how it tastes!

I hope you all have a safe and fun Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The garden as of this morning.
Basil & Marigolds
I know it's been a while since my last post. I hope you haven't lost interest. The days in the garden have been long and hot and tiring and exhilarating and often by the time I'm done working in the garden, I'm done just about with everything. And Rich & I went on a vacation for nearly a week. Went to North Carolina to visit his folks and his friends. And I got to see Asheville and Nashville for the first time! I was nervous leaving the garden, as the week before we left, I'd spent a lot of time (much of it with friends helping) weeding the garden and mulching tomatoes and feeling like things were good. The weather while we were gone was perfect for plant growth: warm but not hot, with over 2" of rain. Both the weeds and my plants benefitted!

Some pole beans.
Ever since returning from vacation, I've been puzzled by seemingly random damage to some of my tomato plants. I surmised it must be deer, since the plants appeared to be eaten from the top down. But I saw no hoof prints, no deer scat, no other damage. Alvin came over this afternoon, and while reassuring me that this garden has always looked just about like this just about this time (which means it looks like the weeds are just about to take over), I asked him what he thought might be eating my tomatoes. He looked at the damage and quickly said, "well, Joe, those are those damn tomato worms." And sure enough, once he said it, I saw a big, four inch-long worm the exact same color as the tomato plant. I plucked it off, squeezed its green guts out and smashed it into the ground for good measure. No remorse; I want those tomatoes. Earlier today I saw the first Japanese beetles. And while they are beautiful and metallic and remind me a little of the scarabs in Greece, I smashed some of those too, since they were defoliating my turnips. Growing a garden means you've got to do a lot of killing: pulling up weeds and unwanted plants, thinning plants to let others grow, and killing bugs trying to eat your plants.

Blackberries ripening.
When I returned from vacation, the garden was nearly unrecognizable as it was nearly covered with weeds. A weed-eater and two lawn mowers did a lot to make it look much more like a proper garden. And now, after nearly a week of working at it, I am able to walk around, ignoring the weeds, and concentrate on how much things are growing. Since returning, I've been harvesting zucchini (over 25 now) and ronde de nice squash every day. The radishes and lettuces are winding down. The peas are somehow still producing despite the tropical heat. And herbs: basil, cilantro, parsley, sage, lemon balm, and mint need to be picked every day to manage their growth. While I was still planting, I kind of went crazy planting basil. I figured it will sell well. And I know it will, as long as I can keep it thinned and weeded and keep it from flowering... And with it spread all over the garden, that's quite a task! There are marigolds and nasturtiums and zinnias blooming all over the garden, as well as all the tiger lilies, mums and daisies around the yard. And I discovered that one of our apple trees produces some sort of early Macintosh variety that, while a little mealy raw, will cook down just fine... And those are already ready. So I am planning on making my first offering at the Farmers' Market this coming Wednesday... only five weeks after it began. Better late than never, right?

The corn is knee-high by the 4th of July!
Tomato Hornworm Damage.
A Tomato Hornworm about to die.
Every day I am out in the garden I learn something new. Today it was tomato hornworm. I've learned about how effective newspaper is as mulch, about early apple varieties, about the difference between raspberries and blackberries, what a snake looks like from a distance, and so many other things. While in North Carolina, on vacation visiting Rich's parents, Rich's dad took me on a tour of his garden and yard. They've got this great cellar they use for storing all their homemade canned goods, and a few small gardens spread throughout the yard. He built a table he uses for cleaning fish, and I am co-opting his idea to build an outdoor veggie washing station. From what I've read, washing produce I intend to sell at the market might be considered processed if it's washed in our kitchen, since the kitchen isn't licensed. But if I wash the vegetables that need washing outside, it would be just fine. And I'd feel better washing them on a nice, clean surface than over the grass and letting them dry there, possibly picking up new insects. That is a project for this week. As is building some new bean and tomato trellises with some of the materials Rich's dad had left over and gave to me. And blueberry picking. Unfortunately I don't have any blueberries, but I'm going with some friends to a nearby farm to pick a ton of blueberries. Perhaps there will be some blueberry preserves and blueberry and apple jelly by the end of next week.

A few Ronde de Nice Squash.