Saturday, July 26, 2008

What to do While in Labor

I started having contractions last night – finally! - but by this morning they were still irregular. So, I fiddled around with garden photography alongside Chris to get things moving.

We have some lovely bounty coming along out here. . .

We ate one of these with some lovely hand-made mozzarella.

One of the winter squash vines that I tried so hard to kill has got an apple-sized fruit on it.

Holy cow, I can’t wait for these to ripen!

I thought the Swiss chard would be bitter after all the hot weather we’ve been having, but it was delicious. Plus when washing the leaves, I got a bit of a surprise. . .

Out of the rinse-water popped a momma spider with a sack of eggs! If someone dunked me unexpectedly into a pool of water right now I’m sure I wouldn’t behave as politely as she did. Chris returned her to the chard patch, where with any luck she will give us many offspring to protect our tasty veggies.

After being a photo-monkey, Chris and I tried braiding onions. It turned out to be a piece of cake – especially with Chris cleaning the onions and handing them to me, so that I didn’t have to bend over. Of all the silly things to do while in labor!

Gardening and Labor

Another week has gone by, and the garden continues to grow. All of the rain was good for the garden, and it is lush and beautiful. A few tomatoes split from all of the extra water, but mostly they're looking happy if not yet fully ripe.
This morning I harvested some swiss chard, a cucumber, and some various cherry tomatoes. We had the cucumber for lunch with some fresh mozzarella, and the combination worked really well. One of the cherry tomatoes was a fully ripe black cherry tomato and it was heaven. I wish I could have recorded the look on our faces. The first taste of the tomato was good, what we would expect from the previous ones. About 3-4 seconds later, however, this wonderful second burst of flavor hit our taste buds at the same time and both our faces lit up.

When I added labor to the title of this post, I literally meant that Michelle is in labor. Now what would you do in the early stages of labor? Run to the hospital? Nap? How about sit in the garage with your husband braiding onions? Ding ding ding! We have a winner! We had never done this before, but Michelle taught me how to braid on some string and we both went to town after I cleaned off the onions. I did the mega braid in the middle, while Michelle did all but one of the smaller braids. I think hers looked nicer overall.

Here Michelle is brandishing her belly, and some of her nicely braided onions. Now lets see how long they last!

Tomato Hornworm

I've always approached hornworms with a mix of awe and hate. They really are pretty when they get big, but they're also amazingly destructive. I spent the afternoon out in the garden scanning leaves for poo, and then looking for damage. That is the best way I've found to actually zero in on their location at least.

This guy was the biggest of the bunch, and he had obviously done the most damage. He was actually very hard to pull off as he had his feet stuck to one of the support strings. It amazed me how strong such a little bug could be.

These five display the range of sizes that you might find when they are younger. I'm happy to say none of them made it to full size before I nabbed them.

The big guys had defoliated whole branches, while the smallest one had just eaten part of a leaf. Definitely best to get them while they're small!

This hornworm has been parasitized, and he was the last one I found out in the garden today. I left him right where he was, as I want a large a wasp population as possible. I could, in theory, just leave all the worms out there and hope they all get parasitized. I like to stick to the rule that if they find them before I can then they stay put.

The hornworm egg that I'd been watching was actually parasitized, and you can tell this because its turn dark black. I'm really happy to see this, as it is even better than when they're parasitized once they're larger. This way there is no damage to the tomatoes. The downside is since I was using this as my warning to start looking for hornworms I didn't catch the first batch before they did some damage.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Here Comes the Rain

We've had several thunderstorms roll through the area, and with the return of rain and the bonus nitrogen from the storm the garden has put on another spurt of growth. I've been somewhat hands off lately because the bunnies got in through the fence again and ate the beans just as they were starting to flower, in addition to leveling one of the carrot patches and de-leafing the cucumbers and summer squash. I've accepted that until I get up a real solid fence I'm just going to lose.

I suppose hands off is relative though as I've been spending a good deal of time trying to wrangle the tomato plants that aren't being supported by the florida weave. The little bamboo supports did not cut it, and its been a race to keep them nicely support. A race that I've lost from time to time especially when they put on a growth spurt.

The rain last night actually toppled some of the purple Cherokee plants as it swelled up their massive fruit set, and they just could stay upright anymore. Luckily I don't see any splitting yet on any of the fruits. With another storm tonight, there's no telling however.

We did finally get some Black Cherry tomatoes, and they were quite tasty. Perhaps not the best I've ever had, but with the soil not being perfect yet I can imagine they'll only get better in the coming years.

During one of my squishing sprees I scared a flea beetle right into the web of a tiny spider, and since the picture came out I figured I'd post it. Like the previous time it ran over and stung the beetle, then retreated and waited for the inevitable.

Early blight has shown up on some of my plants, and I'm both surprised and not surprised. All of the beds are new so crop rotation has nothing to do with it, its just there and I'll have to hope they hang on until the tomatoes on them are ripe. I do plan on disposing of the infected plants either through burning or some other means than adding them to the compost pile, but that's a long time coming.

I found the first tomato hornworm egg on one of my plants late last week and I've been keeping a close eye on it. I haven't found any others to date, so I'm using it as a measure of when I should really do an intense survey for them. When the egg hatches hopefully I'll catch this one before it does to much damage, and it'll let me find the others. I am considering putting up one of my plants with early blight as a sacrificial lamb of sorts, placing the worms on it so they can be parasitized by wasps. Last year every hornworm was nabbed by the wasps, so I'm hoping they have a repeat performance this year.

In this photo from this weekend the caterpillar is more clearly formed, I'm thinking it shouldn't be to long now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A garden blog to watch

While looking up how to braid onions, I came across another garden blog with great pictures! And not only does her garden look amazing, that has to be the prettiest deer fence I’ve ever seen.

Maggie’s Farm

Perhaps I feel a bit of kinship because her husband is also named Chris. :)

Onion Harvest

The vidalia onions flopped over this past week; apparently that’s how onions say they are finished growing. So Chris pulled them up and I spread them out to dry. In a few days I’ll try braiding them together for storage.

Here they are – about 120 onions, grown from seedlings purchased through the mail. They aren’t monstrously big like the vidalias in the grocery store, but darn, do they look like onions! The next time I’m at the store I’ll have to check on the price of vidalias, so I can get giddy at how much our little haul is worth.

Vidalia greens are tasty as well, as it turns out. Last night I tossed some into a corn salsa. (Sweet corn, green onion, garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, chipotle pepper. Yum!) If I weren’t planning on braiding them, I would chop some up and freeze them. Maybe I’ll go ahead and do that with a few.

Mmm. . . my keyboard now smells like onion!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tangerini’s Spring Street Farm

The nesting urge has got me feeling rushed to squeeze in a few last activities before the baby comes. So, on Friday when I got an e-mail from Tangerini’s Farm saying the pick-your-own-blueberries were ready, and Jen responded to the idea with YES YES YES!, we dragged ourselves out of bed early on Saturday to go pick some delicious, farm-fresh yumminess.

After filling only a third of my bucket, I had to retreat to the shade, where a affectionate farm-cat kept me company. Chris, on the other hand, was a blueberry-picking machine. He developed a two-handed strategy where he would grab for clusters of berries all at once. You can see in his eyes that he made a game of it. The nice lady who rang up our combined blueberry pile boggled a bit when we came in with ten pounds of berries.

Here’s Chris. That thing off in the back left of the picture is a nifty inflatable scarecrow.

The tiny wild blueberries of New England supposedly taste better, but not only were these delicious, but they were as fat as the tip of my finger, and the bushes were loaded. By comparison, the four highbrush blueberries I have planted in our yard are pitiful. Chris and I are in agreement that as a future project, we will have to plant more blueberry bushes somewhere in our yard where they will get better sun. But in the mean time, it’s really nice to have a nearby place where we can get our berry fix.

Tangerini’s Spring Street Farm is a fantastic place for families to bring their children. First of all there is ice-cream. The Maple Walnut is to die for. Then there are the different types of berries to pick, the chickens to chase, and the goats to feed. And there is a hay maze in the barn, and sometimes there are kittens And evidently there are hay-rides now and then, and a summer camp program of some sort.

And for the grown-ups, there are plants and produce to buy. The farm also does CSA’s – weekly crates of assorted produce for an up-front fee - which I would enthusiastically do, if we weren’t already growing our own garden.

The tractor-paths in the fields are open for free to walk in, and not only are the views gorgeous, but the wildlife is abundant. We have seen red-winged blackbirds, cat birds, oriels, some sort of sand piper, and pheasant. I haven’t even begun to look at the native plants flourishing around the edges, but since they seem to be an organic farm, there appears to be quite a variety.

If you live anywhere near the town of Millis, then support a great local business by visiting Tangerini’s!

Any Given Sunday

The garden continues to come along nicely. I had to do some watering this week as its been hot, which in Massachusetts translates to out of the 70's, and there hasn't been any rain. I've been battling the flea beetles in earnest in a couple parts of the garden. Between yesterday and today I've squished over twelve dozen. It takes a great deal of patience, and good hand eye coordination but is extremely satisfying. The best 'kill' was actually one that managed to leap away from me. It flew right into the web of a spider that was even smaller than it. The spider ran out to it and ran away. At first I thought it was scared of the 'larger' beetle, but as I watched the flea beetle slow down over the course of a minute or so I realized the spider had bit the beetle and then retreated to wait for it to die.

I also found my first tomato hornworm egg today. It was black as night, which means it was parasitized. I've noticed the wasps patrolling the tomatoes fairly regularly and it keeps me from worrying to much about hornworm damage. With avoiding insecticides I have had a fair amount of damage on the leaves of all my plants, but none of it has been enough to kill the plants. I'm also rewarded with the site of hunting spiders all over the garden, tons of wasps and bees, and of course the dragonflies.

When I go out into the garden in the morning, nearly every single stake has a dragonfly sitting on top of it sunning. They usually let me get really close before they fly away, so I've been able to take a few good pictures of them.

I wasn't able to capture it, but I saw a green dragonfly take of an snatch a lightning bug out of the air. He landed and starting munching, but flew away before I could get close enough to snap a picture. It was really neat to see one of them in action, it is hard to remember sometimes that they are hunters. I wish they'd eat more of the Oriental Beetles. They're showing up more often now and I'm being kept pretty busy taking them out of action.

The tallest of the tomatoes, which are some Black Cheeries, have just about passed Michelle in height. It is covered in little green tomatoes that I check every day for signs of blushing. It was the first plant to set fruit, and being a cherry I'm almost certain it'll be the first to ripen. I am starting to enter into my own personal hell as I wait for my first tomato. It has been so much work and I want a tasty reward! Still, looking at a picture I took on July 8th of last year has calmed me down quite a bit.

We took possession of our house on July 1st of 2007. By July 8th of 2007 we had a sad crooked little row with Basil, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Peppers, and Cucumbers. We ended up getting a little out of this plot, but not a whole bunch since we started so late in the year. When I look at that picture, and then the picture of the garden today I smile. We've come a long way in one year!

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Forth of July

Today is definitely not a day for fireworks and festivities. It is rainy and overcast, much like its been on and off all week. I haven't had to water the garden in forever, which is really nice. At the same time I do worry that the tomatoes are to consistently damp. The fruit set on the tomatoes isn't great, and I think that has to be due to the weather at least in part.

Still they are growing still and even if only 25% of the flowers set fruit I'm still going to have a huge pile. I'm glad that the animals have at least left me my tomatoes. I all but cried last night when I came home to find that something had gotten in through a tear they made in the fence. All the carrots nibbled down to the ground. The Green beans gone, and many of the cucumbers and squash denuded.

The baby is getting some up close and personal time with the tomatoes here! I love the way my hands smell after working with the plants, and in amongst the changing of diapers that is soon to come the baby is sure to get a wiff of that lovely smell. I hope he enjoys it as much as his dad does.

With the green bean and lettuce beds in sorry shape I think I'm going to plunk my remaining potted tomatoes into them. It'll happen today if I get a break in the weather.

Starting them Young

Michelle was out in the garden with me inspecting the tomatoes, and I hope that little Gabriel was enjoying it too. In the future I want to introduce him to gardening in such a way that he comes to love it as much as I do, even if he doesn't realize it until he's an adult;) I feel that growing plants is something every child should be taught at some point as it teaches so many lessons.

Woodchuck - Marmota monax

I'm not sure if it was him or another bunny attack, but my garden was invaded last night and the new crop of carrots, green beans, cucumbers, and squash was eliminated. While I felt a righteous anger I'm not about to eat a woodchuck, and I'm not going to kill something I'm not going to eat. Since relocation isn't a solution I let him go hoping that the experience would deter him from straying into the area again anytime soon.

I just hope I don't come to regret this. If I do find him in the garden again I'm not sure he'll receive another reprieve.

Katydid - Unkown

I found this little monster on a basil leaf in my neighbors garden. I'm taking care of it while she's on vacation. I've seen another one of these among my tomatoes, but it made its escape before I could get a hold of it. Definitely not a beneficial bug, but not a super damaging one either from what I've seen.

Our friend Jen came over with her really nice camera and took a slew of pictures of the garden and bugs in the garden. Here's a much better picture of a katydid.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Water Hazard

. . .or should I say, “the Chipmunk Strikes Back”?

Remember our previous chipmunk adventure? We’ve been on the lookout for a chipmunk with a bald spot on his tail ever since. And I think we’ve spotted him. A couple of weeks ago, a rainstorm came up that sent Chris from the garden to the open garage door. While he stood there looking out, a chipmunk rather improbably came running right up to him. It paused at his feet, and then ran away again. Was it the same one whom we had rescued and inadvertently trapped in the house? We weren’t sure. . . but we suspected. Return of the Chipmunk!

So remember that ugly orange bucket from the last post? It’s the same sort of bucket that the chipmunk spent the night in after we freed him from the fence. The sides are tall enough and smooth enough that a climbing critter can’t get out using its claws. It had crossed my mind that half-full of water, such a bucket could be a lure and a trap to wildlife. But I hadn’t acted on that thought. . .

This morning when Jen pulled up to carpool to work, as Chris passed the bucket, he heard something tumble out of the rain-spout and splunk into the half-filled bucket. It was a chipmunk! Jen and myself and Chris stood there gawping as the poor little fella swam laps. He certainly wasn’t going to get out of his own power. Chris ran off – I thought to grab the camera, but I heard him yell back “I want to hold it!” But I didn’t want to keep the critter from treading water, so I started tipping the bucket over.

Instead of rocketing off to the safety of the yard, the chipmunk climbed up on the edge of the bucket and just sat there – right next to Jen, and only a foot from my hand.

Chris scurried back with a gardening glove on. He held out his hand to the chipmunk, and darned if the little fella didn’t climb halfway into his hand! We all stood there quite thoroughly stunned, waiting to see what would happen next.

What did happen is that the chipmunk decided to turn around and climb along the rim of the bucket. This brought him toward my ungloved hand. Fears of rabies or other exotic and possibly imaginary chipmunk-bourn diseases ran through my mind, so I dumped the bucket over. The chipmunk took that as his queue to get the hell out of there. He ran right across Jen’s foot, did an about-face, ran right by my feet, into the open garage, and straight towards the door to the house!

At this point I should mention that the chipmunk did look a bit scruffy around the base of the tail - though admittedly it was hard to tell since he was sopping wet. But judging by his behavior I do think he was the same one as before. No wonder he had ended up in the house! The silly critter must have seen the shady chaos of the garage as a safe refuge compared to the barren desert of the driveway.

Fortunately for everyone, the door into the house was closed this time. Jen and I laughed from the front lawn as we listened to Chris’ curses and clunks. He succeeded in chasing the chipmunk out.

There is now a stick in the bucket so that any critters who fall in can climb back out.

Yard Update

Ironically I was so eager for the growing season all winter, but now I’m too pregnant to do much but “smell the roses”. (The baby is due at the end of this month!)

The strip along the driveway looks like a wild mess, and it is, but there are lots of good things getting themselves established amid the chaos. I am beginning to think that ornamental grass clumps are a poor choice for our flower beds at this point, though, because they so closely resemble our “lawn”.

The raspberries and strawberries are doing beautifully, which may be an indicator of what a pain they may be in future years. But the neighbors don’t mind getting raspberry bushes on their side of the fence, and for the first time I am actually able to believe that we will get some substantial quantities of food from what otherwise would have been an overheated and scrappy strip of our property. At the very least, the space will be abundantly green!

The “hello and welcome to our house” mailbox bed is a zoo of this and that, full of sporadic blooms. I imagine within a few years the plants that can tolerate the dry hot conditions will thrive and unify it. In the mean time, I suspect this bed tells all who walk by that we are spontaneous and enthusiastic people who would happily invite you in despite the dirty dishes piled up in the sink.

Orange is my favorite color, but this is pushing it! We stuck an ugly bucket under the air-conditioning drip to use for watering plants, and darned if it hasn’t produced an abundance of water. Next to that are pots that followed me home from yard-sales, filled with herbs.

The garden has far to go, but I sure do love the learning process!