Saturday, August 24, 2013

Food Snobs

I was directed to this video by another lovely Garden Blog   This is The Food Snob's Dictionary "Heirloom Tomatoes".  I admit, I am not only a Food Snob but a Garden Snob and definitely an Heirloom Tomato Snob.  I have several blogs started, but I've been very busy scrutinizing, obsessing over and savoring my few heirloom tomatoes which are oh so rare this year due to our bazaar and challenging growing season.  Enjoy!


Friday, August 16, 2013

Five..Six..Pick Up Sticks

Seven...Eight... Lay them Straight
Nine... Ten .......... Do it all over again.

Back in July we spent a day clearing most of my apple orchard.  We did about 80% of the two acres, leaving the heavily overgrown back 75 feet or so. We worked until about 4 pm and then we moved on to other work on the land, in particular, cutting up and stacking a huge cherry tree that had been struck by lightening and peeled like a banana making it difficult for the farmer who rents the pasture to mow around.  When my uncle got home that day, he saw what we had accomplished but he asked   "I wonder why they didn't finish the whole orchard."  Well.  Because we were bushed.  So to speak.

This unfinished business has been wearing on Tim.  He wants the rose bushes gone once and for all.  And so, today, we set out to finish what we'd started.  We had a beautiful day to do it.  As we prepared to leave the house Tim said "This is going to be fun."  After all, he's always up for some bull dozing with the promise of some recreational back hoeing in the form of stump plucking.  These are 75 year old mostly dead trees.  This ought to be easy.  Or at least "fun".

When faced with the wall of thorns, he was undaunted.  That is 75 feet of solid rose bush from the apple tree back to the row of evergreens which shelter the orchard from the prevailing west wind.  No Problem.  A person cannot even walk through it.  
After checking with me that there were no ravines or boulders (Nope, just a third of an acre of solid brush with some apple trees buried here and there... have at it) he dozed into the fray.

This was no neat mowing job with islands of rose bushes.  This was a giant undertaking.  My stepfather Richard had already done his part neatly mowing the cleared portion of the orchard which will make picking up apples for cider so much easier.

The above video shows a typical scene.  Imagine that... for eight hours. A less blurry, non-bloggerized version can be seen at
 Sometimes all there was to see was a wall of green, a flash or orange and some movement.  Often there was swearing.  Once there was a gleeful report "I see Daylight!"

This is the pile we collected.  It was larger than the last one and Tim was disappointed in the photo.  He says he should have parked his tractor next to it.  Well.  See that apple tree just behind it, sort of in the middle of the horizon?  That's about 25 feet tall.  And there are sections of evergreen trunk over two feet thick perched on the top.

Now the whole apple orchard is all tidy again.  You can even see through to the pasture beyond.  Any tree that had so much as a dozen apples on it was saved.  The rule was "knock all the dead off it and if the trunk is still standing, leave her alone".  We have been trying to map out all the varieties, but before now, some of the trees were completely inaccessible.  Another challenge is that our commercialized pallets are only able to distinguish the more common varieties such as MacIntosh, Cortland, Empire etc.  There are varieties in this orchard we have forgotten the names of.  All the more reason to preserve as many as we can.  Next year I am going to plant half a dozen or so new trees in one area.  I am going to order them from Big Horse Creek Apple Farm so we get to choose from the good old varieties.  

So, let cider season begin!  There are a lot of apples.  They are small but there are plenty of them.  We will gather the fallen ones for cider, and there will be plenty for making apple pies.  Tim has earned them.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Fruiting Has Begun

The Fruiting is what I call our family's propensity to trade produce.  My grand mother started it.  She would load up on fruit and stop at each of our houses/offices until she had Fruited everyone.  Yesterday I traded 2 egg plants to my father in exchange for two zucchini and a cucumber.

A day's Harvest 2008

Summer Squash 2010

Thursday, August 8, 2013

And on a Happier Note: Mid Summer Status Check

OK, enough of the killing... here are the fruits of my labors.  Just how sprouty can your old potatoes be when you plant them?  The potatoes above have been providing up with taters for six weeks now.  The plant on the end of the row I have dug up and replanted three times!  There is always something there to eat.  But I've worked my way about half way down one row now.

The very bottom of the barrel went into the new bed.  I'm not expecting monsters but by frost there ought to be some worth while spuds in there.

It's been a trying year for gardening.  We've had records rains, weeks of dry but overcast, unseasonably cool... you name it, we've had it.  Despite the insect invasions, its easy enough to convince yourself that the garden is doing fine and then you look at photos of lush garden jungles from a couple of years ago and you realize just how badly everything is struggling.  My tomatoes, with the exception of the indomitable Japs, are sluggish and lacking in growth.  I pulled out the Sungold because it had not put out any new growth in a month.  The two plants closest to it are sluggish as well.  One might thing there had been some anti-growth compound sprayed on the garden.  I've even begun to question the potency of my compost.  But the photo above shows the potato and tomato volunteers which are growing like gangbusters in the shady back corner of the Poop Deck.  I've forbidden Tim to disturb them.  They may be the best hope we have!

The later planting of cucumbers is looking awesome!  I've always had good luck with this particular bed.  It gets a little more sun than any of the others.  And I admit there is a lot to be said for companion planting.  The Cukes and Bush Beans love each other and are planning on taking the world by storm!

This is the stage of the cucumbers.  In a week we will be picking from this bed.

Also thriving is the Black Beans also planted after the peas.

These were planted with the Dibble Board that Tim constructed for me.

What an easy way to make a couple hundred holes!!!

The Lettuce is planted for fall.  I started these in the basement on top of the upright freezer a couple of weeks ago.  They're hardened off and off and running!

And what's that?  A tinge of color in the tomatoes?  This plant was started from seed in the cold frame May 1st and it will be the first to ripen.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bad Bug Du Jour

Today's new beetle bug of the day is the Green Stink Bug.  This is the nymph form.  They turn more green as they mature.  I stuck her to the tape and went in to my handy dandy Good Bug Bad Bug chart. Yup, I thought so.  Bad Bug.

And today's wormy things are tomorrow's flying critters.  I stuck a couple dozen Asparagus Bug Babies. They are pretty defenseless but they eat a lot.

Today's Fun Factoid:  an Asparagus Beetle makes a shrill, high pitched chatter noise when stuck to tape.  A whole bunch of them make a whole lot of noise.  And then .... squish.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Killing Spree Continues - Know Your Enemy

The thing with pests is that it is a constant battle.  This isn't something you can catch up on weekly like weeding or watering.  You have to be out there twice a day, every day, fighting for your food.  If you aren't killing them, they're killing your food.  I like to think of it as The Hunger Games.  It's a fight to the death.  If you ignore it for a few days, not only are they going to kill this year's crop, they're going to be back next year.  In numbers too big to ignore. Constant vigilance is your only hope.  Otherwise you will be buying {gasp} canned veggies, or {for shame!} asking your friends to bring you their extra zucchini.  There are principles at stake here.  We can't let some little bugs beat us.

I've gotten rather good at the killing, and I'm afraid I enjoy it.  I have learned my enemies ways and I have devised the most efficient methods of stalking and killing them.  Slugs were my first victory a couple of years ago.  After each rain, in the evening, I take my special vintage shaker out and murder them by the dozens.  When I set out seedlings that are especially vulnerable, I surround them with diatomaceous earth.  If I want to kill them while I'm off doing something else, I leave them with a tin full of beer to drown in.  Drink up boys! There has been a significant decrease in the slug population.  I know where they live.  I know how to kill them.  They start to bother me, I will unleash a holocaust. **Evil Chuckle** Simple.

The next pest I learned to deal with is Japanese Beetles.  There really is no getting rid of them entirely.  You can only manage them.  Long term, a product called Milky Spore spread in your lawn will decrease their numbers as will beneficial nematodes.  If you have a sudden scourge of them, beetle traps are very effective but they will lure all the bugs from the surrounding neighborhood in.  And then the coons will find a way to get a hold of the trap and eat the beetles and then barf them up in your lawn.  If there is anything worse than a stinky, smelly, rotting bag full of seething beetles, it is that same bag full of beetles after it has been eaten and barfed up.  I prefer to sneak up on them in the morning, when they're sleeping, and knock them into some soapy water.  Its much cleaner.  Personally I prefer peppermint scented Castile soap.  It's minty fresh.  You will soon note which of your plants they prefer.  They love berry bushes, holly hocks, peas and beans.  They also love Linden trees and Porcelain Vine.  I always start my killing spree there.  There's no better way to start your gardening day than by killing a hundred beetles of various descriptions.

Morning is always the best time of day to murder any kind of beetle.  In the cool temperatures they are sluggish and groggy and much easier to sneak up on.  Japanese Beetles are clumsy anyway.  Every flight plan they've ever devised begins with "plummet towards earth and hope for a breeze".  Just hold your cup of water under them and give them a flick. **KerrrPlunk** 

The soapy water method is also the best for Asparagus Beetles.  Now these guys are a little more crafty.  They are hyper vigilent and shy but they also begin their flight by dropping.  The asparagus plants are a little too dense for holding a cup of water under them.  When I see one, I simply slide my hand, flat palm upwards, towards them, aiming about four or five inches below and when they feel the stems move and drop, they will (hopefully if you have good aim) drop right into your palm.  They are not too quick to evaluate this turn of events and you can simply dump them into the soapy water before they reconnoiter.

Cucumber Beetles took me a couple of months to master, but oh they are so simple to kill.  Yes the lures work, but unfortunately, they kill just as many friendly pollinators as they do unfriendly ones.  I am loving the Duct Tape Destruction method.  And I know just where to find them.  They sleep in the flowers.  And, um, do other things there too.  If you go out in the morning and look in the flowers, you will see a bug butt sticking out of almost every one of them.  They also burrow into the clustered new growth at the tip of each vine.  Just tap the bug out of the flower into your palm and stick him with your duct tape.  It's almost unsporting.  Like shooting fish in a barrel.  In fact, if you can get near a cuke beetle and just touch him with your tape you've got him.  Especially if you get him on the wing side.  If you stick him by the belly you'd better smoosh him down into the tape just to be safe.

And my final murderous victory... the Flea Beetle.  Yes, you can simply cover every thing.  It works just fine.  But if, for whatever reason, you find it inconvenient to cover, then use the tape.  Oh there never was a slicker use for duct tape.  I'm telling you...  a leaf covered with flea beetles is just begging for some duct tape.  I've pretty much run out of flea beetles which is a bit disappointing.  I did so enjoy killing them.

And now, the Horned Squash Bug. I'm still on the upward slope of the learning curve but wising up fast.  Early detection is the key to defeating this enemy.  Eggs are so much nicer to destroy than those creepy, pale, un-dead zombie-like nymphs.  But the good news is that both the tape and the suds methods work.  And the tape works for removing the eggs which is important.  I also found that a nice dusting of garden lime will kill them, so I will have that weapon in my arsenal next spring.  I am happy to report that we are now fresh out of stink bugs.  Unfortunately, we are also fresh out of squash plants.  But revenge will be sweet.  And next year I am planting extra squash.  And I'll probably have to master other murders such as Squash Vine Borer and whatever destroys the roots of things and has yet to be seen much less identified...  Let the Games begin.