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Take Stock and Learn

August 21st, 2013

Now that the summer is starting to wind down, it’s time to start looking at your 5×5 Challenge Garden to see what you want to change and what you’ll keep exactly the same.  When I look at my garden I notice it’s a bit over planted.  Of course I somehow ended up with 3 zucchini plants instead of the 2 that were in my plan, so that is what caused most of my problem.
5x5 Challenge Garden in August
The sowing of lettuce was perfect, when I harvested it, there was plenty of room for the beans to expand and spill over into that space.  Overall, I’d give my garden 4 out of 5, I’m very happy with the layout, the plan and how well it did.  My zucchini plants are still going strong and providing lots of food for us and for the pigs.

What worked and what didn’t work in your garden this year? What changes are you going to make for next year?

The Elusive Golden Beet

July 25th, 2013

I love golden beets, there’s just something about that beautiful golden color. Red beets are great too, but the golden ones are my favorites for roasting. Each year I plant seeds for golden beets and end up disappointed. Germination is never as good as it is with the red beets I plant, sometimes none of the seeds germinate.
golden beet harvest
This year was no different. I planted almost an entire packet of golden beets this spring and only about 15 germinated. The seeds were fresh, or they should have been as they were purchased this spring. My first thought was that I had planted them too early and the soil was too cool. However, I planted more seeds a couple weeks ago and not one seed germinated. I planted red beets last week and they’re already popping out of the soil.
golden beets 2
Luckily, I do have a few golden beets in the garden, not as many as I’d like. Next spring I’ll be ordering seed from a different source to see if perhaps the seeds I’ve had in the past were not very fresh (I have tried seed from a few different places). I’ve been very impressed with seeds from Johnny’s and High Mowing, so I’m planning on ordering a packet from each to see how they fare.
golden beets 1
If I do find a source of seed that germinates well I might consider trying to save seed from them. Freshness is often a key in good germination.

Is there a vegetable you can’t seem to grow no matter what you try?

Planting Spinach

March 27th, 2013

It’s official, the 2013 edible gardening season has begun.  I have already planted lots of seeds, mostly for onions and herbs, but the season doesn’t officially start for me until I plant seeds in real soil in the garden.  On Monday, I spent time planting a large section of spinach.
planting spinach 1
Of course, I couldn’t just plant spinach seed, curiosity always gets the best of me.  It’s a common theory that soaking certain seeds will make them germinate faster.  Soaking them in a diluted kelp liquid is supposed to make them germinate even faster yet.
planting spinach 3
On Monday there were a few different cups of spinach seeds soaking, one in plain water, on in diluted liquid kelp.  I planted both 12 rows of each of these and 10 of unsoaked seed. What variety of spinach did I plant? ‘Space’ from Johnny’s Seeds, which is supposed to be a good cold tolerant spinach.
planting spinach 2
I must admit, I hope that the regular seed germinates just as fast, soaking seeds is a bit of a pain.  It’s much more difficult to plant wet seeds with precision.  Drying them on a paper towel first helped a lot, the seeds were much easier to handle when they weren’t dripping with water.  It is still a little inconvenient to do this, especially if you’re planting a large section of spinach.
planting spinach 4
After planting, the row was covered with greenhouse plastic over hoops.  This is the same bed that was covered last week before the snow to help the soil stay dry and warm for planting.  It’s amazing the difference this made, had I not done this, there would be no planting of spinach until most likely 2 weeks from now.  The soil in the rest of the garden is still frozen solid and covered with a few inches of snow.  It will take a while for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw and dry out enough for planting seeds.

Do you ever soak seeds before planting them?  Do you notice quicker germination?

Empty Shelves

January 15th, 2013

What would happen if you went to your local grocery store the shelves were empty? How long would you continue to go back looking for food? Once, twice, three times or would you go back at all? The same things holds true in the garden, if you’re constantly ridding your garden of “bad” insects, the good insects will never show up because the grocery store shelves will be empty. There will is no food to sustain them and they will move on to greener pastures.
Ladybug 2
I refuse to classify insects as good, bad, pest, beneficial, etc. In my mind, they’re all beneficial because each one plays an important role in the garden. Even the insects most people classify as “pests” provide valuable food for birds as the insects we typically classify as “beneficial”. Sure some insects are a great annoyance (mosquitoes) and sometimes they decimate our crops leaving our plates bare. If we want to build a balanced ecosystem in gardens, we must learn to sit back and let nature work.
centipedeHere at Chiot’s Run, I have noticed the benefits of not stepping in. Each year there is a greater variety of insects in the garden. Those labeled as pests are starting to become less pestiferous because the predatory insect population is growing. The less I step in, the more nature can balance itself out.
Here’s a great example. Last Summer I noticed asparagus beetles on my asparagus. I could easily have picked them off, put them in soapy water and “dealt” with the problem myself “organically”. Or I could let nature run it’s course and hopefully attract the parasitic insects that feed on these “baddies”. I left nature to it’s own devices and closely monitoring the asparagus to see what happened. In a few weeks, the population of beetles exploded, they seemed to be everywhere. “Infestation” would have been the correct description for my asparagus patch.
asparagus Beetle
Not longer after the sudden increase in beetle population, I noticed a wide variety of other insects hovering about the patch: flies, yellow jackets, shield bugs, thread wasted wasps, tiny green wasps, ladybugs and a few others. I even spotted a bird or two flitting about.
thread waste wasp on asparagus
After doing some research, I found a great article detailing the life cycle of the asparagus beetle at the University of Minnesota University and it stated:

A tiny (less than 1/8-inch) metallic green wasp, Tetrastichus asparagi, parasitizes asparagus beetle eggs (Fig. 6). You may notice these wasps when working in your garden. They can sometimes provide very effective control, parasitizing up to 70% of the eggs. Lady beetle larvae and other predators may also be active, and will consume both eggs and larvae. Most insecticides, however, will also kill beneficial predators and parasites.

I was happy to see the warning about insecticide killing both beneficial and pestiferous insects!
When you notice insects you don’t want in the garden, instead of hand-picking or spraying, add a few plants that will attract the insects you need to control them. Herbs are especially beneficial for this. Oregano, dill, fennel, catmint and most herbs will attract a wide variety of those insects we like to classify as “beneficial” to our gardens. What can we do to increase the population of those insects we really want?
yellow_swallowtail_caterpillar 1
In nature there is always an ebb and flow. The population of one species will boom while their predators slowly increase in numbers. Patience is really the best pest control in the garden. The only time you should step in is if the natural predators will not control the problem. Generally that is not the case for insects but more more for rodents, deer, groundhogs and other pesky large garden creatures.
I love these two definitions of ORGANIC:
a : forming an integral element of a whole : fundamental
b : having systematic coordination of parts : organized

praying mantis
Too often in our current system, organic is not much different than conventional except they use different methods of controlling weeds and insects. What we really need to do is to become real organic or beyond organic. To see our gardens as a complex system and each thing as an integral part of a whole. You can’t remove one thing without affecting the system as a whole. The more we shift our minds toward enabling diversity and natural order and away from controlling our garden, the more beautiful and diverse our gardens will become. We can shift the time we used to spend dealing with insect to watching the intricacies of the natural web.
When I talk about this, people always ask “have you ever lost any crops entirely to pest?”. The answer is yes, but in subsequent years I noticed fewer and fewer of those insects and a higher population of those that prey on them. A year or two without a certain vegetable or fruit is worth having it on my plate for years to come. We need to realize that we are not gods in our garden, we are not in control, the more we try to control it the less power we have; we are simply there to nurture and learn.

What’s your biggest insect “pest” in the garden? What’s your favorite “beneficial” insect?

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.