Sunday, December 6, 2015

Can You Dig This? - The Movie

On Tuesday evening, Joe and I went to see the movie Can You Dig This at a one-time-only screening. The movie, set in LA and featuring Ron Finley and other area residents, shows how the simple, basic act of growing food can transform lives.

The movie, in addition, was a powerful reminder that not everyone has access to health-giving produce, straight from the garden, and I know I am very fortunate in being able to grow food in my front yard.

We saw the movie at a theater inside the perimeter, and after the movie, people who are very involved in urban farming and the Atlanta local-foods movement stood up to say a few words about urban farming in the metro area.

One of the speakers was Eugene Cooke, of Grow Where You Are. I love this guy's vision of integrating farming more fully into communities, but he seemed to be having trouble containing some of his frustration as he spoke at the screening. He is hoping that more growers step into leadership in the urban-ag arena, but right now there are many other players who are poking their fingers into his pie (I know - mixed metaphors, but I am hoping the point comes across). Since Eugene follows agro-ecological principles and uses Veganics as his guide, it is likely that a lot of people who visit his farm don't really understand how much of his work goes into building and maintaining the soil.

Some of our Asian persimmons - Ichi Ki Ke Jiro.
Other speakers included someone from the Georgia Farmers Market Association,  Dr. Ruby Thomas who is a pediatrician promoting veganism for her patients (her website is called The Plant-Based Pediatrician), a representative from Truly Living Well who said that the group would be increasing its outreach to children and families in the upcoming year, someone from the Georgia Food Bank (I think ... my notes are getting more sketchy as I go along) who mentioned the work of Georgia Food Oasis Robby Astrove who has headed up the planting of many, many fruit trees in the metro-area, and last of all, Cashawn Myers of Habesha, whose chance to speak was cut short by the beginning of the next movie. I had hoped, actually, to hear what Cashawn would say, since two of my friends have been through his farmer training program, but I will have to wait for another opportunity.

The refrain that ran through the movie and ended the evening was "Just plant some shit!", and there already is a planned "Plant some shit day of action" on December 15,  from 2-4 p.m., in Edgewood at the corner of Whitefoord and Hardee. The flyer I picked up on the way out of the theater specifies "Dress to get dirty, bring gloves, water, & garden tools."

Meanwhile, at home, I am reaping some of the rewards of having "planted some shit" already. Joe brought out a ladder today to harvest the rest of our persimmons, and we have plenty of cool-season vegetables from the garden still adding to our meals.  Feeling very blessed...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Field of Greens

At the little farm where Joe and I volunteer on Saturday mornings, the lower field has so many rows of greens - mustards, collards, radishes, and a little bit of kale - that there is no way for us to fully harvest the crop.

The guys who manage the farm, who pay attention to the farming lore of local old-timers,  plant the field each fall from end-to-end knowing full well that many perfectly good greens will go uneaten, just like in years past. For them, even though they enjoy eating greens, the main point of that crop is not so much Food as it is Pest Control.

They call those greens their "fumigant crop", and it is planted to keep the root-knot nematodes at bay. In spring, when they are ready to plant the warm-weather crops, they just turn under all the remaining greens to let them finish their good work of pest-control. Not too surprisingly, research supports the practice of the old-timers.

The book Managing Cover Crops Profitably, published by SARE (3rd edition, 2010), which can be downloaded for FREE, cites research that demonstrates the "nematicidal effects" of Brassica-family plants like mustard greens and radishes.

When I was talking with a county resident last week about his garden, he mentioned that he'd been having trouble with root-knot nematodes in his 1.5 acre garden over the past couple of years. I told him about my friends and their field of greens, and he went silent for a minute. Then he said that he hadn't planted greens as a winter crop for the past few years because his freezer was full, but he had in each of the previous 20 or so years of gardening in that spot.

I am pretty sure that, regardless of the state of his freezer, next September my new gardening friend will be planting a whole lot of greens.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fruit of the Season, Beautiful Fruit

Ichi Ki Ke Jiro, fruiting abundantly. 

Where there are no pumpkins...
The yard keeps tossing food our way, and we keep enjoying it. It doesn't hurt that some of the food is lovely to behold.

The orange fruits of the Asian persimmon are some of the loveliest. They will show up even brighter when the leaves have fallen, but they already are very visible against the dark green foliage.

When we were trying to decide "what to do about decorating a pumpkin" this year, we ended up decorating a few of our persimmons instead, because we have lots, and they are orange.

The original plan was to just paint scary faces on a couple, then set them out by the door to stand-in for jack-o-lanterns. Joe carved one, though, and he found that the fruits already are delicious.

On Halloween, a few of our neighbors even realized that our "jacks" were persimmons!

We have not yet had a frost in our yard, but one of my friends just a little further north, in Canton, GA, has woken up to a frosty yard twice so far this fall. The distance between our homes is not huge, but there is a lot of cooling woodland in between; my town is more nearly continuous with the enormous heat-sink that is Atlanta.
One of many bees, happy that the salvia still blooms.

The local bees are happy with our current frost-free state, because flowers are still everywhere. When the first frost hits, the bees will have a bit more trouble finding pollen and nectar, because the masses of salvia and zinnia currently blooming in our yard will be gone.

Luckily for the bees, we have plenty of other plants in the yard that will bloom most of the winter, including chickweed, violets, and dandelion. Our weedy lawn supports a lot of pollinators!

Meanwhile, we have gotten so much rain that the ground is mushy. I am glad that I set my new strawberry plants in garden beds that are mounded up a bit above ground level, because those shallow-rooted plants do  not do well in soggy conditions. So far, they all look good.

From the rest of the garden, we are bringing in lettuces, kale, a whole rainbow of radishes, bok choy, cilantro, parsley, and beets, and we still have one pepper plant (a "chocolate bell") providing fresh peppers. The spinach is a bit small for bringing in, as are the cabbages, broccoli, and carrots.

I hope that all is well in other gardens!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Plant, Harvest, Process, Repeat

50 Chandler Strawberry plants, from Ison's Nursery
It is too late in my area for planting most cool season crops, but this is the month to set garlic and shallots in the garden, and last night I planted a lot of little strawberry plants that had arrived (very well packaged) on Wednesday. There are still about 20 plants that need to be set into the garden, but the ground is mostly prepared for them. 

Planting is a very hope-filled activity, and it usually involves some serious work.

We still are bringing in hilariously large quantities of peppers from the garden, along with the first of  the cool season vegetables.We've brought in bok choy and winter radishes, and the first beets are almost ready to pull. The sweet potatoes, one of the remaining summer crops, will be coming out of the ground this weekend, too. This part of gardening for me is packed with amazement and joy; always, I think "wow! this really awesome food grew in my garden!", even when the day's harvest is just one radish.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Road Trip to Monticello

Me (left), Electa (center), and Susan (right) at Monticello
A couple of weeks ago, I took a Friday off from work and drove with two friends to Monticello for the harvest festival, and Oh My Goodness we had a great time!

Electa had visited there before, but Susan and I hadn't, which is one reason we made the trip. The other is that Electa had some Georgia-heirloom hard-neck garlic that she wanted to share with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Ira was scheduled to be one of the speakers for the event.

Considering this need, how could we not go?

We arrived early enough that the morning mist hadn't cleared.
The one obstacle that we had a hard time getting past was locating a nearby hotel room. When I was calling around to make a reservation and running into many fully-booked hotels, I was amazed to think how many gardeners were planning to be at the harvest festival!

We later found out that harvest festival weekend was also a football game weekend for Virginia, and that most of the hotel reservations were for sports fans rather than gardeners. To be honest, I was a little disappointed to make that discovery, but the festival would have been pretty crowded if all those football fans had been at Monticello.

I took lots of archeology-related pics for my youngest son.
The good news is that we were able to speak with many other gardeners who actually did attend the event.  We also met seed-savers and sellers we hadn't yet known about, listened to a couple of talks, and, of course, each bought more seeds than we have space to plant.

The festival included many presentations and vendors, but it also featured some Living History people who were demonstrating how things were done/made back in Jefferson's time.

When Susan saw a Living History guy (on loan from Colonial Williamsburg) splitting a long piece of oak tree to make a basket, she was very happy, because, in addition to being a thoughtful gardener, she is a basket maker. She had been at the John Campbell Folk School for awhile this summer to learn more about using native materials in basketry.

She spent enough time watching and asking questions that the guy waited for her to come back from a presentation to let her help split the heartwood of the piece of oak tree he was working with that day. The heartwood is used to make rims and handles.
Susan got to help split the heartwood to make handle and rim.

So ingenious...
While Susan was learning more about making baskets from oak trees, Electa and I were asking people questions about their gardens: what is your soil like; what grows best for you; what are your garden's biggest challenges; which varieties do you choose, and why?

To be honest, we may have gone a little overboard on asking about other gardens, because by the time Susan caught up with us, she had already been asked if she was "part of that Marietta group" (yes, that was us!).

We had arrived at the harvest festival on the first
shuttle from the parking area, and we were among the last to leave. We really enjoyed the gardens, the people, the exhibits, and the presentations. We got the most out of the day that we could, because the very next day we were planning to drive back to Georgia. Electa and Susan are (mostly) retired, but I needed to be back at work on Monday. Luckily, my gardening friends are happy to do a crazy long drive for a one day event!

Banners with plant-related quotations hung from trees.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Muscadine Time

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been harvesting muscadines at the little farm where we do some volunteer weeding and other work, and those little Southern fruits have been a great addition to my weekday lunch basket. Hearing other people's reactions on seeing them is interesting, too. The locals all are interested in finding out where I was able to find these Southern grapes, so they can have some, too, but people from "up North" tend not to have taken to the thick skins and stronger flavor.

I am not from here, either, and it took some time to adjust, but, really, how could I not fall in love with all that wonderful fruit? The vines are nearly trouble-free, and they are very productive.The only drawback I have seen is that finding the fruit in the mass of foliage can take some time. On walking up to the trellises, not much fruit is visible. To find the most in the least amount of time, I press my face right through the foliage, as though I were snorkeling, to get the clearest view.

It probably helps that I wear glasses, which protect my eyes. Also, moving slowly, as though taking a leisurely swim over a shallow reef, helps to keep the wasps (who also are interested in all that sweet fruit) from becoming startled.

In the yard at home, harvests of summer vegetables are slowing down, and the first leaves of some  cool-season crops are coming up -- even the beets!

Hope all is going well in the other gardens out there!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Planning for More Good Food

Twenty pound "Luscious Golden" melon from our front yard.
My not updating the blog for 3 weeks doesn't mean the garden isn't still a productive and wonderful place. It is, actually, providing surprising quantities of good food, considering that it also has been a little neglected.

We are running short-staffed at work, during our busiest time of year, and work-stuff has spilled over into my non-work time. However, the bosses have interviews lined up to fill at least one vacant space, so we are hopeful that the whole "short-staffed" thing will be short-lived!

In the meantime, I am thinking more and more about the fall garden. Last weekend, I amended some areas with compost, planted seeds for chicory, beets, parsley, green onions, and one last patch of bush beans, and I started seeds (late!) in a flat for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, more beets (in case the outside seeds don't make it -- they can be finicky), and bok choy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vegetable Abundance

Yesterday's harvest from the front yard.
This is a time of abundance in the garden, which means we are busy in the kitchen. I put up tomatillo salsa in jars over the weekend, and I blanched more green beans for the freezer. Joe has kept the dehydrator full and humming with tomatoes and okra, and he's smoked some of the hot peppers, then dried them and ground them to powder to store the full, amazing flavor in tightly sealed jars.

Even though the garden still is fairly bursting with good food, it is time to begin the transition to cool season crops, which will provide fresh vegetables in winter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mid-Summer Garden

July 6 tomatoes, Rutgers  PHOTO/Amy W.
Since the beginning of the month, we have enjoyed meals that included zucchini, beans, potatoes, tomatillos, shallots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, salad peppers, and cucumbers from the summer garden.

We have pickled peppers - both Jalapeno and Poblano - and made several batches of fermented cucumber-pickles. Beans have been blanched for the freezer, and we have been giving away our extra zucchini.

We also have begun thinking about where to plant the cool season vegetables that will provide fresh food in the coming fall and winter. It seems so soon. The tomato harvest has barely begun! If there isn't a plan, though, it usually turns out that no room is available when it is time to plant the seeds for carrots, beets, lettuces, collard greens, and other cool-season crops.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Fruits for ( and some not for) North Georgia Yards

New isn't always better, especially when it comes to choosing reliably productive perennial fruits for our yards and gardens, but "the new" certainly is appealing. Here in North Georgia, we are able to grow many kinds of fruits, and some of those need very little care, but the list can feel limiting to the more adventuresome gardener.

Our little-care list of reliably productive fruits includes blackberries of many varieties, Heritage red raspberries (and Dormanred, but those are not great to eat), Rabbiteye-type blueberries, mulberries, June berries (aka: service berries), muscadine & scuppernong grapes, some varieties of plums (Methley is an old-reliable, and Auburn has developed several good varieties for the South), some pears (the old "sand pears" and a few others are quite hardy), persimmons (both American and Asian), the tart cherries like Northstar (sweet cherries don't do as well here), strawberries, and probably a few more (pawpaws, for example, would make the list if I knew of any that were very productive).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Eye of the Beholder - Bumblebee Love and Garden Update

Bumblebee on dahlia that also has fed thrips and Japanese beetles.
The bumblebee in the picture to the right doesn't care that the petals of the dahlia have been ruined by thrips and Japanese beetles. The bee is after the abundant pollen, and the petals are relatively unimportant compared to the sweet spot in the center of that amazing flower.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Insect Activity This Week

Insect activity in the garden can be good, and it can be unwelcome, depending on the insect. This weekend, I made the first sighting of the season of a most unwelcome moth, the squash vine borer. She is pretty, but her babies devour the insides of squash vines, eventually leading to the demise of the plants.

Squash vine borer adult. The red can be viewed as a warning to gardeners!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Squash Beetles and Bean Harvests

Squash beetles look a lot like pale ladybugs.
It looks like a "good year" for squash beetles, because I have smashed a lot of them already. They are on both the zucchini and cucumber plants.

My camera hasn't wanted to focus on the little beetles, so the picture at the right is a bit fuzzy, but if you imagine a "washed out" looking ladybug, with seven spots on each side of its body, and it is eating a plant in the the squash/cucumber family, then you pretty much have a good picture in your mind.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summer Harvests Begin

Provider bush beans, 27 May 2015.
I took the pictures to the right yesterday morning, early, before the sun was fully up and before I drove to work. The lighting, as a result, is a little weird, but the idea comes across: The first of the summer crops are ready to harvest!

We still are eating lettuces and other spring crops from the garden, but three days this week my lunchbox has included home-grown green beans. Soon, our home-grown zucchini will join them, then raspberries, then cucumbers, onions, garlic, potatoes, blueberries...

In my mind, I can see our garden crops coming into the kitchen in sequence, like waves rolling to shore. 

Meanwhile, I am still planting warm season crops. The okra and nasturtiums went into the ground just this past weekend.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Corn, Planted in Nests

Sunfish nest in the Brazos river, last summer.
This spring, when I planted my corn, I worked with a vision of sunfish and warm, Midwestern streams in my mind.

The connection may seem obscure, until you see that my corn is planted in shallow saucers that look a lot like the nests that sunfish make. A major difference, though, is that my saucers are on dry ground, in the garden, and not underwater.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Twisty, Narrowed, Thickened Leaves and Other Weedkiller Damage

New growth on tomato made weird by persistent herbicide in manure.
Cabbage growth stunted and warped by persistent herbicide in manure.
There seems to be a lot of weedkiller damage in gardens this year. I've seen twisty, narrowed leaves on rose bushes (from two different yards) that were probably exposed to 2,4-D before the plants even leafed-out in spring; I've seen shortened, odd growth on hydrangeas (same cause); and I've seen vegetable plants whose growth has been stunted and made odd by a group of herbicides that persist in hay, grass clippings, and manures.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Salad Days

A tasty part of tonight's supper.
I went out early this morning to harvest lettuce for our lunchboxes, and again after work for our supper. When I went out in the early dark, the air was heavily perfumed with honeysuckle. This evening, the fragrance was less pronounced, but it was there -- glorious.

In the garden, lettuces are looking great, we still have radishes to pull, and there are a few green onions remaining.

Future supper ingredients.
 The peas are looking ever more promising, too. Pods are are hanging on the lower sections of the vines, while the tops of the plants are still covered in blossoms. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spring Veggies to Harvest Now, or Soon, and Delayed Planting

We've been bringing in asparagus, green onions, and radishes, and there are little bits of lettuce to add to salads, but it will be a few more weeks before the beets and spring-planted carrots are big enough to add much mass to a meal.

The peas, though, will be ready sooner. The vines are in that covered-with-flowers-and-tiny-pea-pods stage, so I am pretty hopeful that we'll have some peas with our meals in ten days or less.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What's In Season Now?

Onion family crops to harvest in June.  Tulip to enjoy now.
I spoke with a guy last week who was looking for farm-fresh produce for a project at a local Senior Center. He was hoping for tomatoes and corn, and it was hard to get across the idea that those crops are not currently in season.

When we finally had that notion sorted, he asked about yellow squash. Let me just say now that the conversation went on in that vein for several minutes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Are We Beyond the Last Frost? Is it Safe to Plant?

After several warm days and moderate nights, we had a weekend of cooler weather that included a drop down below 30 degrees F.

Some years, such as in 2011, 2012, and 2013, our last frost has occurred before the end of March, and it is possible that the warm weather forecast for the upcoming week will seduce gardeners who remember those warm years into setting out tender transplants, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Indoor Seedlings for the Summer Garden

I started seeds for the summer garden in a flat indoors, back in early February. Many of the seeds germinated and have grown, but it always is amazing to me that each kind of seed has its own schedule.
Mostly tomato plants, started in February.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Time to Plant Potatoes and Peas

The quietest starting "bang" I know is the unfolding of the trout lily flowers in my back yard. Their blooming is my signal that it's time to plant potatoes and peas. Once those crops are in the ground, the new planting season rolls out before me. In years when the weather cooperates, all goes smoothly, but usually the gardening proceeds in little bursts.

This past weekend, with Joe's help, the potatoes and peas were planted. Next weekend, if the forecast rain isn't too abundant, I will be planting little patches of carrots, beets, lettuces, and spinach.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Growing Hominy Corn at Home

Hominy is one of those foods that doesn't make it into the cover-photos of many fancy food magazines. It may have a better chance than chitlins, but not by a whole lot. I know, though, that hominy is delicious, which is saying a lot about a food I've only ever eaten canned.

It never occurred to me to try to grow the right kind of corn and make my own hominy until this past week, when I was reading at Indian Country Today, in an article written by Anna Jefferson, about an heirloom corn being grown out for seed at Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, for the Osage Nation.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Still Winter, but Dreaming of Spring

It looks like this is going to be one of those awkward years when the plants and the weather aren't quite in sync. Daffodils began blooming in my yard over the weekend, but there is a drop to 11 degrees F expected on Wednesday. That drop in temperature will make a mess of my daffodils. The pink camellia blossoms aren't going to take that drop well, either. Wilted, drooping, soggy, browned flowers definitely are not part of the spring dream!

The hopeful news is that the tips of trout-lily leaves are beginning to emerge by the back fence. I use the blooming of those plants as a signal to begin planting peas, and then a week or two later the potatoes. Some years, the flowers of my trout lilies are up in abundance by the last week in February, but it may be the first week in March before I see many of those flowers this year.

Those two plantings -- the peas and potatoes -- begin the cascade of springtime activity in my garden. Lettuces, spinach, beets, and more cool-season crops will be seeded directly into the soil in that same time of beginning, and from there the planting flows fairly steadily on, right through May.

While I am waiting on the trout lilies, I have tiny plants to tend indoors. Tomato seedlings have begun their unfolding in the flat that I started on Feb. 8, a little more than a week ago. Tending those, and then the peppers and eggplants that will share the flat as they germinate and grow (always taking a little longer to emerge than the tomatoes...), will keep my gardening-energies engaged in the meantime.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Almost Seed-Starting Time

Well, it's almost time to start seeds of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants here in my area, so of course I've jumped the gun. The weather this past weekend was glorious, and I spent part of it out on the back deck setting up the first flat of those long-time-to-maturity vegetables. I added some tomatillo seeds, too.

I wrote a guest-post about seed-starting for UGA's Community Gardening blog that was posted last week, and I included two links near the end for some UGA publications about seed starting. Any beginners at seed-starting might want to check out those links, because the explanations (and illustrations!) they contain are more complete than I could fit into a blog post.

The usual garden vegetable seeds are fairly easy to germinate, partly because they are for annual plants; the seeds have simple needs for temperature, light, and water that are easy to fulfill by mimicking springtime indoors. Seeds for shrubs and other perennial plants often have additional requirements for aging, for cold-storage (mimicking winter!), and for having traveled through an animal's guts, and this winter I have been working with seeds for jujube bushes that are in this category of persnickety seeds.
Bag with 4 jujube seeds in sphagnum, stapled to instructions.

My friend Eddie brought me four jujube fruits last fall, and I have been following instructions I found online through SF Gate to prepare those seeds for spring. After eating the fruits (tasted like apples!), I soaked the seeds for about an hour, then scrubbed the remaining stuck-on fruit off the seeds. Then, I placed the seeds in a paper bag, in the dark, to dry and "finish ripening" for a couple of months. Then, I put the seeds in a ziploc bag with some damp sphagnum moss, and put that whole shebang into the fridge.

The plastic bag is stapled to the brown bag the seeds "ripened" in with a note that says the seeds can come out of the fridge anytime after February 10. That's this week! There are several more steps ahead to get those seeds ready to germinate, but I am hopeful that the process will work. Wish me luck?

Friday, February 6, 2015

That Seed-Buying Time of Year

If your inbox looks anything like mine at this time of year, it is crammed with messages from seed companies that are hoping we all will  buy more seeds. This year, a great little ad came to my email from Park seed company that hints at how much money we can all save by buying seeds.

The ad reads:

Home Gardens Save Money

On average, a family that spends $50 on seeds and fertilizer will produce $1,250 in produce!

While I totally agree that home gardens can be a great source of less-expensive, healthy food for families, I have known people with quite small gardens to spend this much and harvest much less. Hopefully, though, all of my gardening friends have developed cost-effective plans to make the most out of whatever space is available for their gardens.

One of my gardening friends and I have worked out our annual seed-buying deal that saves us both a little money. This year, I will be placing our joint order for seeds from Sandhill Preservation, and she will be in charge of the order from Baker Creek/Rare Seeds. We will be getting together this weekend to finalize and place our orders. This is always a great way to spend time with a gardening friend!

I am not ordering as many seed packets as usual, because I have a surprisingly large supply of seeds in the fridge that are still new enough to have good-enough germination rates. As seeds age, they lose viability, and they can get so old that they just won't grow. That aging-time varies with crop type, but I seem to have bought a lot of seeds in the past couple of years. Very few packets have date stamps further back than 2012.

This weekend is forecast to be warm and sunny, with highs up around 60 degrees F. I plan to spend some of that beautiful weather pruning berry-canes, the persimmon, and the plum. Hope that everyone else has a great, garden-filled weekend!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Tale of Two Kales

Actually, I told part of the story in the previous post. My curly kale made it though our drop to Very Cold Temperatures undamaged, but the Red Russian ended up with some bleaching on the older leaves. There is more to know, though, about these two crops.

The purple-stemmed Red Russian, according to my seed catalogs (which I finally have had a chance to look through!), should grow to be fairly large, 18-30 inches in height, but I haven't seen it get bigger than the lower end of that range so far. However, we may be eating it faster than it can grow! Most of the catalogs seem to indicate that this kale is more cold-hardy than it turned out to be in my North Georgia garden.

The other kale that I grew this year is the Vates dwarf blue curled. If I had realized how truly dwarf it would be, I would have spaced the plants closer together. I'm ordering seeds for a larger curled kale to grow next, because I want bigger leaves.

Both of these kale varieties taste good to me, but they are definitely different. Leaves of the Red Russian are MUCH more tender and taste sweeter to me. The Vates dwarf curled has tougher leaves; for salad, I chop them very small and let them stand in the dressing for a couple of hours before attempting to eat the them.

Even though they are dwarf, the curliness means that there is more actual leaf for their size than for the Red Russian, so it takes fewer leaves to fill my salad bowl. Mixing the two kinds of kale in one salad, though, makes it lovely to behold and even better to eat.

For both, even though many gardeners say that kale tastes the same when grown right through the summer, the catalogs agree that kale tastes better when grown in cold weather. The cold prompts the plant to store more sugars in the leaves as protection against freezing (sugar-water freezes at a lower temperature than plain water).

I talked with a friend today, though, who really doesn't like kale, even when it is winter-grown. Since she is an outgoing person who hangs out with gardeners and since kale is so very popular right now, she is faced with many-a bowl full of kale, prepared one way or another.

She is a good sport and eats the kale even when she'd rather not, but for other gardeners, the ease of growing such a nutritious, mild-flavored vegetable that stands in the garden through the winter makes it easy to include some in the winter garden. The only question for those gardeners will be which one, or several, to grow.

Monday, January 19, 2015

After the Big Freeze...

It's been well over a week since the Big Freeze (when the temperature dropped to around 12 degrees F), but I only just today worked up the nerve to look under the covers in my garden, to check on the broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. The results of my efforts to protect my crops were mixed.

In the good news category, the unharvested broccoli under the heaviest cover looks amazingly good. I am hoping that growth will continue and I'll be able to harvest heads that are larger than 2 inches diameter (the size they are now). The cabbages under the thinner cover also look good, but under both weights of covers all the cauliflower -- the least hardy of the group -- have died. The few remaining broccoli under the thinner cover didn't completely die, but the flowering heads that I had been hoping to eat were damaged beyond saving.

For the plants left uncovered by anything but hope, outcomes also were mixed. Some outer leaves of the collards and red kale were bleached by the cold, but those bleached leaves are not wilted, and the newer, inner leaves look fine. The curly kale and the carrots appear to be completely undamaged. The spinach looks fine, the parsley and cilantro have some limp-looking leaves among the healthier ones, but all the leaves on all the radishes and beets have turned mushy.

I pulled up the dead plants, but beyond that I haven't done any real work in the garden today, because we have taken this three-day weekend to rearrange the garage.  All of my physical work has been given over to shifting shelves, boxes, tools, the rabbits and their enclosures, bins of toys and household stuff, and more, to make a working space for Joe to build a boat.

We have been in this house for a long time, and the garage had been full of the accumulated stuff of life in the suburbs while raising two boys, so thinning out and rearranging has been a big job. Finishing the job will take more than one long weekend, really, but while Joe is working out which of his final two choices of boat to build, we are busy making room for the project.

Otherwise, my big task for the weekend has been to order some seed potatoes. Last year I was unable to find any Irish Cobbler potatoes for planting, so this year I made sure to order them early.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Thinking About Seeds

Last Thursday I spoke about Planning for Seed Saving for the local Master Gardener group, then the next day I gave an open-to-the-public "Lunch & Learn" presentation about Vermicompost, and on Monday, I will be talking about Organic Gardening for the Marietta Garden Club.

This may all sound disconnected and crazy (and maybe like I'm some kind of amazing sucker for saying "yes" to three requests for different topics so close together); however, in my mind, this all ties together in a way that makes total sense.

As I plan my garden for the year, in working out when to plant which varieties to allow for my little efforts at seed-saving, having the information fresh in my mind from giving the talk is a huge help. I will be starting seeds in February for some crops, and my vermicompost will come in handy at that time.

There are two main streams of thought when it comes to starting seeds. One is that you should use a completely sterile starting mix to minimize the risk of damping off as the seedlings develop; the other is that you should use a starting mix with so many beneficial microorganisms that they out-compete the damping off fungus. Also, I've run across a few studies that indicate that mixing as much as 20% by volume of vermicompost with the usual seed-starting medium actually enhances seed germination and seedling vigor.

I'm running with that second group for most of my seed starting this year (although I will still have some of those Jiffy Pellet seed-starting sets in my office, for demonstration purposes). The vermicompost that I have harvested from my little worm bin will come in handy as I begin to set up my flats for spring seeds.

Supporting beneficial microorganisms within the soil community is key to organic gardening. When I transplant those seedlings that got their start in an environment that is rich in microbial life, my organically-managed garden can only benefit.

I'm looking forward to the last of these three getting-ready-for-gardening talks!

As a bonus, along the way, I've had the joy of hanging out with many other gardeners, three work-days in a row, exchanging ideas as we all gear up for spring.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Seed Saving Surprise

I gave a presentation on "Planning for Seed Saving" last night to my county's Master Gardeners  -- some of my most favorite people! Among other things, I talked about legal issues (patented seeds) and biological aspects that can affect choices gardeners might make about saving seeds from their own crops to replant in subsequent years.

One aspect of the process that I mentioned is removing plants that are showing undesirable traits from the garden, to keep those plants from cross-pollinating with the other plants that have traits you want.

If the plants with less desirable traits flower and pollinate the "good" plants, then those less-good traits likely will appear in your next generation of the crop.  Removing "rogue" plants helps keep the next generation of the crop productive and wonderful, so this practice makes total sense.

However, even when we are trying to maintain a variety with its original traits, in selecting which seeds to save for the next crop, we sometimes make choices that change it anyway!

After the talk, one of my seed-saving friends shared her experience with a Southern pea she'd been saving and replanting. Each year, she'd saved "the prettiest" seeds from the crop to replant. After about a decade of saving pretty seeds, she found the original packet that she'd started with, and it had seeds in it.

She dumped out the seeds and found -- in a grand surprise -- that they looked very different from the seeds she'd saved from this summer's crop of what was supposed to be the exact same variety!

Gardening is never boring.

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