Sunday, October 21, 2007

Odd sandwich and late season tomatoes!

Earlier in the month, I had the best tasting and strangest looking BLT ever!

Yes those are green tomatoes, but they are ripe tomatoes. They are slices from the heirloom tomato, Aunt Ruby's German Green and they were delicious! This was the first year for me growing this variety, and it has earned itself a spot in next year's lineup! This first year was hard for me since I never knew when the tomatoes were ripe. I kept waiting too long to pick them and the raccoons and groundhog would get them instead. Finally I was able to harvest some late in the season and made these funny looking but great tasting BLT sandwiches.

The weather has been unusual all of 2007. January and February were warm but then we had a record cold March and April with much snowfall. Since then we've had the worst drought in my lifetime and the hottest Summer and Fall. It was difficult to keep the garden watered, but the tomato plants that made it have still been giving me ripe tomatoes even in October! Here is my most recent Fall tomato assortment:

These are slices from three of my heirlooms; Caspian Pink, Black Krim, and Aunt Ruby's German Green. I planted many heirloom tomatoes this year but not all of them did well. Soon I will post a 2007 report card for each veggie variety I grew. A tomato that I know will get a positive grade is my extra-early Early Girl tomato. Not only did I pick the first ripe tomato on June 15th, but these plants kept producing all year. Today, on October 21st, I was able to pick a few last Early Girls!

Thats over four full months of Early Girl Tomato picking! Maybe I even could have gotten more since frost is still not in the 10-day forecast. The only reason October 21st is the last official day is because I worked in the garden today and cleared out all of the tomato plants. I also built a makeshift compost bin and planted garlic and Kenny's Potato Onions today. I will tell you more about all of that in other posts this week. For now, I am just happy to be back in the garden and back to blogging.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Organic Gardening Techniques Don't Always Work

I have not written about garden insects much this year like I did last year. Largely it is because last year's menaces did not repeat this year. I guess the Tomato Hornworms really were killed by the braconid wasps and the Blister Beetles really were chased away by their dislike of the horseradish plants. In both cases nature ran its course and I benefited from natural organic remedies without using any unnatural chemicals or poisons.

I really do believe in gardening organically. There is no room in my garden for chemical pesticides or fertilizers - Period. However, I'm not one to preach about it and I don't pretend that if you stay organic you will never have any problems. Sometimes it is quite the opposite and you have to be willing to lose an entire crop at times. That was the story this year with my broccoli.

Cabbage worms by the dozens destroyed all of my Spring broccoli, and it looks like my Fall broccoli will suffer the same fate. We only planted two plants this spring since we had so much last year that we couldn't eat it all. Since there were only two plants, I thought I could control the worms by hand-picking every day. After all, if you've ever looked up what to do about insects in an organic gardening book, most of the time it says to simply had pick them and destroy. This seemed easy at first because many of the worms are large and easy to see.

Of course, hand picking them all is easier said than done! The problem is that they start out so small and grow so fast. They are also very good at hiding right in front of you. Here's an example; how many cabbage worms do you think are on these two plants?

Would you believe 15? I know that it is too hard to tell from a little picture so lets zoom in and look at only 1 plant.

Now how many do you see? Seven, right? Does this help you see them?

And this picture was taken after I had already removed five or six worms! I thought I was finished until I looked closer.

Notice that I'm counting one that I already squashed on the raised bed wood on the lower left. I know it is a bit gross to discuss, but it was very interesting to see what happened when I distingished the worms in this way. As soon as I would kill a worm on the wood, an ant would come along and take the body.

It was fascinating to watch. Every cabbage worm carcass was dutifully carried away, each by a single ant.

That is a good illustration as to why I don't want to spray poisons on the plants to kill the pest insects. In this case, the spray would have killed these ants too. Chemical pesticides are not only bad for us to consume, but they kill or drive away earthworms and beneficial insects. To me, even though I lost this battle and got no fresh broccoli, it is worth it to maintain a safe and healthy soil and micro-climate.

As for the Fall broccoli, they too are infested with cabbage worms. Usually Fall broccoli is safe from the cabbage butterfly and worm but this year it is still hot in October - a record high 90 degrees as I write this! Next year I will cover all of my brassicas with poly-spun row covers to keep out the butterflies. This year I will continue to fight a losing battle and keep hand-picking the worms. At least it feeds the ants I guess.

It's really too bad that I have to kill these worms. They are actually kind of cute.

What am I saying?! They are garden pests and they are killing MY organic broccoli! That is a punishable offense indeed.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Finally working outside again

It has been difficult getting things done at work since I was off so much because of my dad. I still haven't been able to work much in the garden, but I finally did get to work outside this weekend. Instead of working in the garden though, my family and I worked in the woods behind our yard. We had to do this because during the week when I was going back and forth to the hospice unit, the electric company decided that they needed to upgrade the power lines that go through there. They had some of our trees cut down and many more trees trimmed. Unfortunately they left ALL of the debris for us to deal with. We finally started cleaning it up.

I used the chainsaw to cut the big pieces to be split later and cut up the limbs to carry out. My wife and daughters also carried out limbs and smaller logs. What made this difficult is that the whole wooded area is a pretty steep hill and the downed trees are at the bottom, next to the creek. We planned to use our chipper/shredder to mulch up all of the branches, but we discovered that we have a lot of branches that are too big for it.

Plan B is that we need to burn much of it. We used to have a small fire ring behind the garden, but that disappeared with the garden expansion this year. We were tired of dragging out wood anyway, so we decided to carry up rocks from the creek instead - much easier, right?

After a great deal of effort, we had enough rocks to make a bigger new fire ring. We dug out a hole and built the ring. I concreted the rocks together, so this ring is a bit more permanent than our last one.

You can see the garden in the background of the above picture.

Now we just need to wait for the drought and the burn ban to end so we can have our first official camp fire in it. I can just taste the marshmallows! We still have a lot of work to do with the woods, as well as many other outdoor projects. I need to finish building the deck railings and the pergola.

As for the garden, I want to build new compost bins and cold frames and fence the garden in. Before all of that, I need to plant garlic and Kenny's Potato Onions.

Good thing we built that fire ring. To get everything done this fall, I will be needing it to stay warm because by the time I finish everything, there will be snow on the ground!

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