Thursday, July 29, 2021

The cross-quarter celebrations: when I feel it, I DO it!

part of the garden

If you are a Pagan, chances are you are looking forward to Lughnasadh, or in its Christianized, more recent guise, Lammas (Loaf-Mass) on August 1. Heathens follow a different calendar and as far as I know, they did not have a summer harvest festival. But since I have been pretty much doing my own thing with more reference to what the natural world and other non-material entities (Gods and Goddesses, if you will) have told me, celebrations of thanks for harvests fit well into my practice.

There are three times during the year that elements of harvest figure strongly in my spiritual workings. I call them First Harvest, ThanksGiving and WinterFinding.

First harvest is... about now! yes, I have been harvesting and we have been eating and putting by a bit now and then, from the first bites of lettuce to the abundant flush of peas just past, for which we do give thanks as we tend, pick, process and eat. But around the beginning of August, there is a change in the feel of it all.

When I lived in wheat growing country (eastern Washington state) the wheat harvest began in August and with the addition of other locally grown grains, carried over to September. Evidences of it were everywhere, from the combines working the fields to harvest the grain, to the chaff in the air (which caused me to stop eating wheat for the month, to abate my apparent allergy, thanks to the advice of a wise chiropractor) to the trucks heavily laden with grain trundling more slowly than many motorists liked, toward the grain silos for unloading. 

chard, with deer damage
While I know we grow wheat here in Maine (and I have indeed done so) it is not obvious in my area. But sometimes -- like today -- the harvest abundance just reaches out and hollers "HARVEST TIME!!" as I work the garden. Today I picked snap beans, dug the first "new" potatoes, brought in the first onion, as its top had fallen over, picked the first two picking cukes (one of which the dogs mostly ate!) and another zucchini, 4 large heads of broccoli and a large "mess" of Swiss chard that has bounced back very well from the deer munching a while ago.

carrots and garlic harvested
As I set to processing the beans and broccoli for the freezer, I was prompted to make our supper from some of the beans, a few of the 'taters, the onion, carrots pulled a day or so ago and stashed in the fridge, the first few beets, some beet greens with some of the chard and some broccoli. To top off this home grown meal, I grabbed a chicken breast from one of
some of the broccoli!
last year's meat birds and dredged it in locally grown flour from a local mill.

So, tonight we celebrate First Harvest. The time is right and as we eat, serenaded by the rain which is predicted to fall through the night and into the morrow, giving us and the garden a good inch of water, I give thanks to the natural world, the Gods and Goddesses and wights and spirits that have worked together -- as I do alongside them -- to make this happen.

Chard, deer munched

Monday, July 19, 2021

the post in which I brag about my garden

 My gardens are always a bit crazy. Well, often more than a bit. I get busy -- or in the old days had to work -- and the weeds take advantage.

My planting -- and what planning there is -- follows a "What is the weather now? What needs to be planted now?" order from one side to the other.

And I have never been a fan of weed-free gardens like you see in magazines. the earth WANTS to be covered, so my weeding is often a trade off between helping the veg grow and keeping the soil covered.

I prefer to let nature do the watering, when possible. Ma Nature does it best. My soaking hoses (sprinklers waste water) while directing liquid to the plants rather than the paths and weeds, are always second best.

I am delighted with the results thus far from this year's garden, so

I will brag a bit. First off... peas. I have put up close to enough for us this year, so I invited a friend to come pic, and she took this photo of me in the pea rows. On the right are some Champion of England and an unidentified (at present) tall petit poi variety. Remember what I said about being a bit crazy? We ran out of frozen peas this past spring so... I have the row of short Iona petit pois at my knee in this photo and two more rows not shown. I will go out tomorrow and glean the last of the edible ones, allow some to mature for seed next year and pull the rest for the fowl.

I struggle with bell peppers -- all peppers actually -- each year and this spring, on a visit to a "local" health food store in the spring I saw some locally and organically grown seedlings that called to me, so I bought 4. This is the first bell pepper to come close to being big enough. I will never grow enough to supply all our needs, but I will cherish the fruit of this plant and its 3 cousins.
Tomatoes are a late summer crop in Maine, but I am glad to see blossoms AND fruit beginning to appear on the plants that I began supporting on their trellis recently. They need to be checked again, maybe tomorrow, and have more support applied but eventually there will be eating, canning and sauce fruit to deal with. While I still have some canned 'maters and sauce, it will not get us through to next year.
I know lots of folks who are really into flower gardening. Veg are my thing, but I try to throw flower seeds in a row or two in the veg garden because while I do not have the energy to prioritize them, I to enjoy them. These coriopsis are both nice to look at AND a dye plant for my fleece!
Corn is often not "knee high by the 4th of July" as I learned from my youth with kin in Iowa, and I have plenty of sweet corn, cut off the cob, in the freezer which will carry us through to next year. But there is nothing quite like FRESH sweet corn. Start the water boiling, head out to the corn patch to pick a few ears, husk and pop them in the water. No butter or salt needed, in my world! These guys have been inter-planted with an experimental crop of fall shelling peas. Not to put by, just to see if I have the timing right for a few "messes" of fresh peas as the weather cools
First harvest of garlic and a few of the early planting of carrots... the latter will go in with a beef roast tomorrow. Garlic is all about ready to harvest, hopefully the carrots will continue to offer up crunchy goodness until the fall storage crop is ready.
Cole slaw! Probably sauerkraut, too... since I did not end up with any late cabbages this year. The recent cool, damp weather has them heading up nicely.

And broccoli... someday I would like to be able to grow enough to put by a full year's worth of one of our favorite green veg. One of these may be eaten soon, the rest will be blanched and frozen. there will be more, as I planted a blend of varieties. 

This last pic gives you a good idea of my garden chaos. Tomatoes being trellised onto twine at the right foreground, that corn in the right background. The black stool sits in the row that contains the pepper plants and beyond them, cucumbers (not weeded in this pic).

Rows to the left are beans, first pintos (needing a trellis of sorts) and then snap beans and in the upper far left are the potatoes.

Monday, July 12, 2021

I Choose Hand to Hand Garden Warfare

Long ago, for a lower school essay assignment, I took on the topic of chemical warfare as my subject matter. It was so long ago, in fact, that Agent Orange never arose in my research. While I do not think that research paper long ago had a direct impact on my garden philosophy, it lingers in the back of my mind each time I go out to the garden to defend my food supply from those usually smaller creatures that also wish to devour it.

My gardening roots entangle with those of my maternal grandfather, who had a large garden in Iowa and with whom we spent a month or more each summer of my youth. While my cousins were off doing other things, I spent most of my time in that garden, helping pick and weed, or sitting in a comfy perch in a nearby apple tree, reading, looking out at the garden and listening to the birds and insects who shared their space with me. I never once saw Grandpa spray and I was never once told to stay out of the garden, as I know Mom would have insisted had anything been amiss. Even if something "safe" had been applied, Mom was super over-protective.

So now, as I work to defend my turf and my food, my go-to is essentially hand to hand combat. I literally lay a hand -- or at least a finger or two -- on any "pest" that I find.

These days, the marauding horde is mostly Colorado Potato Beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). They are about 10 mm (38 in) long, with a bright yellow/orange body and five bold brown stripes along the length of each of its elytra (the hardened wing sheaths that you see on their backs.)

I have, over the years, become quite familiar with these creatures, and have become pretty adept at finding the yellow egg clusters, laid on the underside of leaves, as well as the adults and the larvae in their various sizes and guises. I am pretty happy with my hand to hand combat approach, as they will not likely develop a resistance to this technique, as they have to many pesticides.

The "babies" start out as very tiny, brick red spots with black heads, much smaller than the proverbial head of a pin to which small things are often compared. In my experience, they tend to hide in the tightly folded new leaves at the top of a potato shoot or tucked into the node where the leaf stem meets the plant. In good light situations (don't try to hunt them near dusk!) I find the tiny things, as well as their larger kin, easy to spot, even several feet away if I am looking from the correct angle. Moving the plants around helps bring more bugs into view.

As the larvae grow, they change color and eventually end up a very light, large hungry beast. These are what do the most of the damage. BUT I have found egg masses (turning the plants to one side then the other to reveal the underside of leaves, with a eye peeled for the flash of bright yellow which indicates an egg mass), larvae of various sizes and adult beetles in the garden at the same time and even on the same plant!

De-bugging is a daily event for me, and takes about an hour for my 4, 75' long rows of potatoes. I either plan to squish every stage of bug development that I find, or I am prepared with a small container of water with a wee bit of detergent (to cut surface tension) into which I knock the adults, drop the larger larvae and the sections of leaf with egg masses. the smaller larvae get squished. 

It is coming on mid-July now, and I am seeing Japanese Beetles (Popillia japonica) beginning to appear on the potatoes also. If I am quick, I can knock them into the soapy water, too. I am learning to come at the beetles lounging on the plant's leaves with my hand from above with the water just below, as if one attempts to fly away, it will likely hit my hand and fall into the water.

If you should get tired of the daily debugging session, keep in mind that:

  • Potatoes can usually tolerate up to 30 percent defoliation when they are in the vegetative stage.
  • They are much more sensitive when tubers are beginning to bulk and can only tolerate about 10 percent defoliation.
  • Tuber bulking begins soon after flowering, making this time critical for beetle management.

And if they do get away from you, you can always resort to chemical warfare. I had to do so a couple of time when I was working full time and had to miss a de-bugging session or two in a row due to weather and my work schedule. As the University of Minnesota extension office says, the main drawback to chemical control is the bugs developing resistance, I found that using Bonide's Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew (approved for organic gardening) worked well.

[all photos courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension web site]