Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Crazy self seeded vine "topiary"

A long, long time ago I got a cheap green metal pole to hang my hummingbird feeder on.

I was peeved at the boring-ness of the pole and decided I would grow things up it. I found this great seed from Botanical Interests called Cardinal Climber (pretty basic) that said it would attract hummingbirds and so I sowed it.

Nothing happened and I went, "Blah." So I sowed some reliable Grandpa Ott seed I had saved for a while and it came up merrily... and then some time soon afterward Cardinal Climber decided it wanted to join in on the action (maybe it's like a competitive younger sibling).

And now I have this:
(pardon the pics sort of suck because I was too lazy and took them through my dirty kitchen window)

It's self seeded (and crossed with itself as you can tell by the random pink and white cardinal flowers). Of course the morning glory re-seeded too and now they've taken over the pole and the hummingbird feeder a bit too.

Lat year, to the chagrin of my husband, I attached a twine to the pole and to the nearest gutter so the vines could climb up it, which they did, and then decided to make a roof attack upon us.

It was kind of neat seeing the vines take over and nearly eat the house while framing our window, but the reality was it that was beginning to clog the gutters above... which is no good, so by autumn's end we had to tear it down and no twine attachment to the roof this year on my part.

(click on the pic to see more detail)

The nifty part is though that these vines want to EXTEND and do so at nearly a 90 degree angle as it's trying to reach out and find something to grab. When the wind blows, the vines look like they're fingers of some sort of scary green Cousin It trying to get a hold of you!

Oh, there's a hyacinth bean vine too somewhere in there, but he's sort of shy and we don't talk about him much :) (Hyacinth beans are edible too :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

But I don't even like pink!

I've never liked pink, too prissy for my tastes. It always reminded me of princesses and I never was the princess type (usually wanted to be Robin Hood, the Prince, or Super Mario---- maybe it was the weapons...?)

ANYWAYS, I've brought a little pink in my life finally, but only if it's combined with some sort of purple-burgundy-black on the plant.

It all started with the Haight-Ashbury Hibiscus:

Striking me with its interesting splashes of hot pink here and there (and NOT the MJ looking leaves...)

...and then I found Pink Fountains Gaura, with it's burgundy-black foliage and pink flowers... (the foliage is blacker with heat, and as it's been cool, so yeah, pretty blah green now). I thought it would go well with Haight-Ashbury... and now Park seed has this lovely.

*girly squeee* pink flowers with purple-black foliage AND edible fruit eventually?!? WANT SO BAD. Geez, when did I start accessorizing my garden more than myself?

BUT... it's a tree/shrub... and I have noooooooooo room. *le sigh*

Someday that farm will happen...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Just got hit in the head by a forecasted temperature drop!

Oy! It's almost October! So, why am I surprised by the upcoming temperature drop that's BELOW 50 degrees?

Because I am dumb and have acclimated myself to the idea of an endless summer!

How is it that we so easily forget that things get cold again? (shut up you guys in the deep south/California :)

That temperature changes gradually, but one day/night just hits us and we notice, "whoa, the weather really is changing!"

I mean, dude, I've been planting/planting for my cold-weather gardening, why am I so weirded out about this?

Aiiee! I just saw some geese flying south! It's like they're carrying the warm weather with them! Come back you warm weather thieves! Maybe if I lasso a few and house them in my yard the warm weather will stay there ;)

To the market, to the market, jiggity gi

So happy that our area has a farmer's market!

Unfortunately I have a tendency to talk shop and my husband begins rolling his eyes because despite liking to talk shop with the other growers, I typically don't purchase most of their generic vegetable wares because, well I grow it already...

Here and there though there are the people who have more time/patience/experience/land than I do to grow special items like these:

When I first saw them I thought they were little plums/prunes, but that would be weird to have this season.

They had a pungent, sweet, even a bit spicy aroma and some were splitting a little so I could see their pale green-white flesh. Flies were landing all over the place on them, most likely attracted to their sweet scent and the vendor had to wave them off.

Inquiring further I was told by the Asian vendor that they were Muscadine grapes, and while waving off another swarm of flies landing on them, she told me to go ahead and sample one.

Hmmm, these grapes were quite possibly not washed and flies have been landing on them. It felt like some sort of Asian person challenge because really, being steeped in Chinese culture, you HAVE to sample the wares if you're REALLY Chinese, and make sure the fruit is gooood.

So, I got my Chinese ON, daintily waved away a few more flies (trying not to remember that I recently read a fly carries 100,000 bacteria on their back alone), fogged up a grape with my breath and wiped it off before popping it in my mouth.

OMIGOSH. The flesh slips right off the thick skin and you get the whole grape in your mouth before even chewing on the actual skin. Flavor Tsunami. It was sweet and a little tangy, but rich and PEPPERY. I was blown away.

It feels like I'm eating something truly wild, like an exotic animal--- except this is legal :P

Muscadines had always been in my mind this Southern old-timey fruit I had heard of and simply poo-poohed as "just a grape." Boy, am I dumb. I bought a little basket of them despite their expensiveness, I had to share with my husband (and gobble more later myself if he didn't like them :)
(as it turns out, his thoughts about the grapes: "I'm not sure, kind of tangy," whatever that means).

Aren't they beautiful? They look like a bunch of little starry bubble galaxies touching.

This is what a garnet would taste like if you could eat it!
I may need to "accidently" toss these somewhere in the garden...
Sadly muscadines are dioecious, meaning that they have separate male and female plants, so it just adds to the toughness of growing these :/

Also at the farmer's market were CHESTNUTS!

(Makes me feel like zombie when eating them, brains! BRAINS!)

If the whole roasted chestnuts thing is only recognizable to you in song, then go out and buy yourself some FRESH ones, because the ones at the grocery store are dry, shriveled, moldy things compared to these babies, and for $3/basket it was a good deal.

Here is a good link to learn how to cook chestnuts.

Just a note, make sure you cut through the shell deeply enough because a 'sploded chestnut is not only not pretty and a mess to clean up, but it's embarrassing to be caught licking roasted chestnut bits and powder off the stove and counter.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lambs ears- Useful and a good pet substitute

I have a soft spot for this easy, potentially invasive generic plant:

It's so FUZZY!

and xeri-scaperific!

As a little kid I had read that it was used as bandages during wars and would often play doctor/medic on the little boy neighbors I played He-man/She-ra with, dressing their wounds with lambs ears (so we stick fought a little hard :/)

I learned recently too that it makes an apple-y fruity flavored tea and along with bandages, can be used like the ultimate biodegradable wash towel (albeit small, but still useable).

More likely this would be a great cotton ball substitute and I wouldn't have to worry about the oddness of a bleached cosmetic product.

Maybe, maybe... though I have always wanted to grow my own cotton for fun...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Very Important Question: Foreign Green Onions becoming naturalized?

How long does it take for green onions grown in Mexico and then purchased at my local grocery store, but then all the green parts are cut off for cooking and the white root part placed in water to grow, THEN placed in my garden be considered LOCAL and grown in Memphis? (yeah, that was a bit roundabout)

Is it when all the cells to regenerate and officially turn themselves over before they can be considered actually grown here or at least, re-grown here?

Does it get dual-garden-ship?

FUN EXPERIMENT (I've done this before, but killed the green onions off recently):
(1) Get some grocery store green onions
(2) Cut off the parts you need minus about 2 inches of white area w/rooty area
(3) Place rooty/white parts in a glass of water, with the white part at least half inch exposed
(4) Watch with wonder at the quickness green onions grow!!!

Point being, as long as (and it is highly possible that your green onions from the store are the variety that don't go bulbous/bunch, you can keep cutting and going back rather than pulling green onions all the time unless you are a white rooty bits fanatic.

I don't like buying the garden growing sets at the store because I find them expensive and usually more than I need for typically non-green onion eaters such as my husband and I.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Death of an Agricultural Scientist: Questions of farming, ecology and ethics

You may have heard recently of the death of Norman Borlaug.

If yes, great! If not, really read the hyperlink on him above.

Those who use their noggin to have help the world avoid mass hunger I salute. Even if industrial farming must come to a poor nation, and chemicals and pesticides that us lucky folks in more wealthy countries can afford to eschew because we have plenty of calories to spare or because food is not a scarcity for us; food that may have traces of these chemicals is much better than no food at all.

Many might question, as I remember it was talked of in an old political science class I took, the ethics of teaching industrial farming and/or providing food to other nations.

Questions like population control come to mind (such as, if a famine occurred, then nature is simply providing checks and balances that the population is re-balanced to the amount of food available.

Others might say that the environmental impact of industrialized farming is not worth the effects and that it would do more harm than good.

I feel that it is reasonable to use the inexpensive commercial option to produce food quickly in order to avoid famine in a country and teach that country's people skills to maintain their farms, EVENTUALLY moving on to or converting the farms to organic methods.

Of course, people, being people might get used to the idea of commercialized farming and not be willing to change to more sustainable methods. A risk I'd be worried of that could lead a country to end up just like the USA's farming situation.

Perhaps, the "organic" matter (though potentially pesticide/herbicide/other various chemical adulterated) from these start-up commercial farms could be used to add back to the soil of places where nutrients have been depleted or needed to be built up with organic matter in the process (bringing up the question as to when that soil becomes truly again "organic" to our sub-par government standard).

Rather than importing all of our extra food products from wealthier countries, teaching people how to farm a crop successfully and continuing the tradition all the while slowly moving towards sustainability with this knowledge from the start is a good beginning to decreasing world hunger (teach a man to fish and all).

Additionally raising crops that are more tolerant or native of these environments and is only smart, as well using farm animals indigenous/more adapted to the country to provide a livelihood and fertilizer for farms to help them become fully sustainable.

(That reminds me of something like The Heifer Foundation which provides and teaches people how to maintain animals for food and business means eventually enabling those people to become self sufficient. I really like this organization because I figure if I can't have a goat at least I can buy one for someone.)

Borlaug was part of the Sasakawa Africa Association which attempts to use native or ethnic crops such as maize, cassava and etc improved crops while also introducing non-natives that take well to the environment and will produce a good crop to add to the food supply.

It seems that the foundation attempts to utilize/incorporate green methods such as green manure crops to choke out weeds, yet incorporate and fix nitrogen so as to limit the amount of fertilizer needed.

Minimum tillage methods are also being introduced within the program so that old crops can be used as mulch, less labor is needed and water is conserved, all very helpful and important things to maintain in this area of the world.

Stated too, they attempt to limit the use of herbicides to a minimum and prevent the over-use of chemical fertilizers. All of which is good for the environment and appropriate cost control methods.

It is exciting to see that despite its third world status, green/organic modern methods are being utilized to attempt to avoid past modern wealthy country mistakes of over fertilization, tillage soil structure damage and excessive chemical.

Also by avoiding hiring expatriates and keeping a lean staff they ensure that most of the money stays in the country and that much of it as possible is used towards farming supplies.

By teaching their farmers too how to properly store their harvests and treat it to prevent damage from pests and rodents, their farmers can wait until grain prices are reasonable for them to sell at. Thus, showing them the economies of things and avoid pressure of selling all their crop at too low prices where they might sell at a loss or fear of losing their crop to rodents/pests.

While this sort of farming is more industrialized and there is slight concern that some of the "old ways" of farming and processing food might be lost, but the avoidance of famine is an obvious benefit next to that loss.

If marketing is any example however, old methods will not be lost as there are still many products such as coconut, shea and neem oils being grown/gathered and produced in the traditional manner by small companies bringing and keeping that wealth to their particular nation (such as Alaffia, where I get my neem oil) by emphasizing their product pride on hand made, non-refined materials.

The country profiles within the Sasakawa website are detailed and very interesting to read how each country found successes and what was achieved specifically in terms of the agricultural, managerial, funding, educational and etc. levels.

Borlaug utilized specific breeding methods, not genetic modification, to create wheat hybrids which have changed the way we eat and averted famine in a time when mass world starvation was a serious threat people believed.

I am a proponent of heirloom varieties because of their uniqueness and diversity and believe that it is important to remember our past, but I also do realize the benefits of stronger hybrids and the potential for good that certain GMOs can do for countries with insufficient land or environment to sustain their population. (I am somewhat hesitant as Garden Rant has recently mentioned about GMOs). Of course, it may seem like a cycle we will reach again if we continue on our path of an ever-increasing population, unsustainable this and that, with technology which will supposedly swoop in to save the day every time which is not sustainable in itself all the time.

I do believe that it is only reasonable to do what we can within our means and minds to fill a gap for those who need it the most and to help those who need help. Compassionately teach others to help themselves through education and personal involvement.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Garden Names

Usually I am a big fan of names, but I have never considered naming my garden... just not my thing.

If I lived in a manor, a grandiose area, or at least felt like my garden was swanky enough for a name I'd do it, but this little suburban yard doesn't have the oomph yet to deserve one I think.

HOWEVER, it was fun briefly poking at the idea of naming the garden and I could be snarky and call it something like: The Backyard.

To be more creative might be:
-The Jungle: Upton Sinclair is Buried Here (I have no idea where Upton Sinclair is buried... oh wait, I made a Google)

-Squirrel Buffet

-Land of Planty (I am so sure that this is used, if not at least in a blog... ah, another Google. Really? Leonard Cohen?)
(UPDATE: huh, rechecked that link and either I was TOTALLY tired, but Leonard Cohen's thing is actually Land of PLENTY, and there was one link that said "planty" that caught my eye, oh well)

-Perilla Hostile Takeover

-Gnome Man's Land (thought this was great until I looked it up. Well, dang).

ok, those aren't that good, but if anyone has any suggestions, IF I was to fancifully decide to name my garden, please send them this way!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gray skies gonna clear up--- think you should have put up a rain barrel ?

With all the rain we've been having it reminds me of water collection.

If you've done this already, hurray for you!

Rain barrels, little do many people seem to know, are ridiculously easy and inexpensive to make.

Considering the vast market for rain barrels of varying types and fancy "designer" ones out there, rain barrels are nearly an accessory for the garden now and sadly, taking all the fun and learning away from people who have the actual moola to purchase them.

Never fear, I will provide the resources (uh, web-links and some info, not actual physical ones, sorry) to put the work and learning back into garden water retention!

The easy part is a definite for making your rain barrel as long as you have the tools.

The inexpensive part is a little more difficult, because step one, is to find a barrel big enough and suitable for water collection. You can be easy on yourself and go out and purchase a large plastic trashcan, though there are some schools of thought that insist you look around for an actual distributor of sorts, like a soda/pop or pickling company that uses food grade plastic barrels, if you worry about plastic chemicals leaching into the water you will be using to water your plants.

Personally, I was able to track down a local soda company with a couple weeks of effort and phone tag and once I managed to get to the site where the barrels were held, the kind personnel there informed me that I could take as many barrels as my mini-van could hold.

"REALLY?!?!" I sort of eeped, and went to work taking advantage of this opportunity.

Soon, I found a way to fit SIX, 55 gallon barrels into my mini-van and away I went, not very safely able to see out my rear view mirror.

Please learn this lesson though: Never, ever, EVER leave your barrels in your car for longer than the time you've parked the car when you get home.

The stuff that they had in the barrels, soda syrup concentrate, or pickles... is concentrated, and VERY smelly.... I was so nauseous for weeks afterwards when I drove because the car reeked of sugar-sweet cola smell and there was no real good way of getting it out even though I drove with the windows down. The scent just PERMEATES into the car's pores or something.

As a matter of fact, if you can let the barrels air out outside for a good while, like weeks in a shady, windy spot, GOOD IDEA.

Though I won't give directions here (links will be provided below), essentially the concept of the rain barrel is simple: cut a hole at the top for rain to fall/be directed in, cut a hole for a spout at the bottom. (Elevate as needed)

Ta da! You has a rain barrel!

The problem then becomes, every time it rains, you get excited... and then you think, "My ONE rain barrel ought to have an attachment..." and so you do it.

And then the next ferocious downpour occurs and you think this same thought again or that your other gutter/downspout is rain barrel-less and soon you want rain barrels everywhere to the consternation of your spouse (unless he/she is into conservation as much as you are).

The only other problem after that is how to hide your ugly pickle-barrel. (My plant is to try tall grasses or vines next year)

Anyways, it's easy, saves you water, provides your plants with non-chlorinated stuff that they like (unless you live in a severely polluted location with serious acid rain) and your can feel good about having learned how to do something new.

N.B. Though this might have been a better project to complete prior to the spring rains, it's nice to get some rain barrels going during these wet autumn ones and prior to having to drain them when winter hits so you can avoid a barrel bust. Think of it as a great winter project in preparation for spring.

LINKS to rain barrel instructions:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tea time- Camellia sinensis

Though I know the infeasibility of having a tea plantation in your backyard, you can still pretend to have a mini green tea paradise with a couple, few, maybe even a half dozen or so Camellia sinensis plants in your yard if you live in the Midsouth, or ZONES 7+.

As many people are aware, green tea has many known health benefits and I'm going to avoid sounding like a Lipton or Snapple commercial and just blather on instead on the awesomeness of being able to grow Camellia sinensis.

The reason for my bringing up the topic is because camellias are pretty ubiquitous to the South and now that the weather has been cooling off, I've kept my eye on the shiny evergreen leaves and buds of my neighbors' Camellia trees, some of which have branches that are so large and heavy they touch the ground and look like giant living green castles more than trees.

Anyways, the neighbor's camellia buds have begun to open and so I went to check out my 2 little tea plants in pots and whaddyaknow? Lovely ain't it?

I wonder if the rain and humidity reminds the plants of mountain air in India or China or something, because there are a bunch of buds ready to bust open, which is exciting, because the fragrance is, and I never use this word, DIVINE. It's truly heady, a combination of jasmine and orange blossoms and that otherness that makes it a green tea blossom I suppose.

Unfortunately the rain makes the flowers brown and the scent more faded, but once things dry up (hopefully soon!) I'll be greeted at my door with this scent every time I step out and hopefully NOT be swarmed by mosquitoes (cross fingers this does not attract them).

I have kept my plants outside all year round, only bringing them into the garage when the weather looks like it'll be severe (frost/hail), and they've been very hardy to everything it appears as long as they receive adequate water. I've had no bug issues really of any kind other than spiders liking to spend some time there rolling up a leaf or two for a leafy tunnel home.

The location I've kept my plants at is somewhat protected, a wall at the west with some light tree and bush cover in front facing south so that it gets direct, filtered light, enough to prevent sun scald.

Tea plants are typically pruned into a bush form (at waist high for easy picking) so that they have many many little branches to form many many little leaves on, with the most prized 2 leaves and a tip thing for the finest teas.

While I am very far away from that point of having a well fleshed out tea plant, I see promise in my plants.

Ok, I have a confession: I haven't given my tea plants their necessary pruning yet because it always seems like there's something potentially pretty on it that I don't want to cut off... and while I've amassed a good amount of literature on the proper methods to take care of/propagate/prune my plants early on when I got them... I sort of haven't reviewed them in a long while and I need to figure out when is the best time to actually start chopping (I mean, pruning).

So, that's why I'm writing about it so I can get my butt in gear AND inform other people to not be dumb and wait as long as I do :)

After reviewing the literature again, it seems that:
"When the tea plants reach a height of about one to two feet above ground, it is cut back and pruned to within a few inches off the ground. Trimming back encourages new shoots to form and increases yield. Regular 2 to 3 year pruning cycles encourages a fresh supply of new shoots and further increases yield."

I'm not too late! My plants are about 2 to 2 1/4 feet high, so they're not too big, though I still HATE the idea of cutting off all that growth... a stick/stump in a pot feels rather painful, but if it has to be done... of course if it ends up dying, I'm going to be a very unhappy person.

Unfortunately, there is no info as to WHEN to prune...

But thank you Gardens Ablaze for that:
Cutting out dead and weak stems can be done anytime, but severe pruning, or shearing all the leaves to shape the plant, should only be done from mid-February through early May - basically after flowering and before new growth begins."

Cool, so now that all of that is in order I will be prepared to see my tea plants in new splendid glory for next year and as I like to do with basil and such, use the pruning cutting to make tea plant clone babies!

Cal's Plant of the Week, a service by the University of Oklahoma Department of Botany & Microbiology suggests that
Camellia sinensis are propagated by cutting or seed. Soak seed in warm water for 24 hours before sowing. Hardwood cuttings should be taken from winter to summer, treated with rooting hormone and with bottom heat of 72 degrees recommended. Rooting is slow."

Though I do have a tea fruit developing/developed on one of my plants (it's been there forever it seems), I understand that seed propagation is notoriously difficult so while I might attempt it... I"ll just keep myself in pessimism mode and not feel crappy if it doesn't sprout and whatnot.
Finally, here are some interesting facts about tea to encourage your to grow your own:

(1) Green tea has chemical compounds that fight against the "bad-breath" bacteria (certainly a more refreshing, non-drying alcohol way to kills mouth bacteria compared to commercial mouthwashes!)
(2) A compound in tea seems to be able to reverse methicillin bacteria resistance, therefore giving us a potential way out of this antibiotic resistance mess (other than the obvious, stop abusing of antibiotics in general of course)

Links on how to pick and process your tea leaves into the different varieties (pun intended):

Thorough info on Camellia sinesis:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Time to plant your vampire repellant

Hell and fiddlesticks, the season of vampire preparedness is upon us!

Earlier this year I pulled up garlic that I had planted 1-2 years ago (potentially 2 years ago as I sort of "lost" some of the garlic when the leaves died down too much and then blew away...)

I allowed the garlic to dry out for about 2 weeks in a dark, well air-circulated location and then with MUCH effort and research figured out how to crudely (and CHIC-ly may I say?) make a garlic braid. (okay, so I skipped a few steps here and there that I couldn't really 'get', but it looks braided)
*It's starting to get cold here, so put on all your clothes...* When the weather gets a little nippy (before the vampires do), it's a good time to start planting garlic.

Since I am a huge cheapskate and am not into the gourmet garlic thing yet I use cloves of garlic from the grocery store. This type of garlic is typically the softneck variety that grows easily when planted by individual cloves and once harvested, stores well.

The other type, the hardneck variety has as the name states, has a hard neck but it does not store as well is what I heard through research.  It does form however these super nifty curled up greens called scapes when they grow. The scapes are known to be a tasty flavoring or can be made into or added to dishes.

I think I may have seen hard neck garlic at Walmart if you wish to grow it... but don't take my word for it and don't ask me why I was at Walmart.

How to grow (super easy):
I simply take apart my garlic cloves, I need only about 4-6 heads per medium size raised bed (and that's a bit heavy on the planting) and make sure that pointy side is up and under about an inch or 2 of soil.
Then I sit back, confident and unfearful in the knowledge that the vegetables and I are safe from blood suckers.

Even the softneck garlic green shoots can be eaten or added to dishes and when the cloves are ready, what I like to do with them is to roast them in their skins, wrapped in foil for about 25 minutes at medium-high heat and then the garlic is awesome, nutty and spreadable. I just pop the cloves out of the skin into my mouth and then make kissy motions to my husband.

Get that garlic out now or when it gets colder, just at least before the vampiric invasion!

Friday, September 18, 2009

No till gardening

Not many people recognize it, but soil DOES have an essential structure microscopically. Gardeners (especially the edible kind) like use food analogies as often as possible (because, well, we like to eat what we grow usually) and the way soil holds itself is called its "crumb." Think of the entire soil you use like a cake, and your have moist cakes, dry cakes (sandy soil) and those fudgey ones (clay soil). While we all have our preferences, typically the moist ones are preferred, or as in this case, most vegetables like a moist, well held together crumb cake that is just crumbly enough to allow drainage, but enough to hold nutrients and allow for root development.

Most complex cake you'll ever encounter hm?

To make this even more fun to comprehend, think of it as a cake HOUSE, or PLANET. Preserving good soil structure is important not only for plants but also for other biological activity such as microbes and earthworms.

Some of  the best, most fertile dirt around, such as forests and woodlands, don't get messed with. Trees grow, leaves fall, animals die, things decompose, scavengers and fungi break things down and only the earthworms are dragging that stuff below.

There's no loud obnoxious bladed tiller or any animal of any sort doing that in the forests, FORCING STUFF into the ground. If things are going well, Nature is progressing along happily and healthily, the earthworms are doing the tilling for you, and in such a GENTLE manner.

Besides, tillers are expensive and more work than most people need in the size of gardens they have.

If you were an earthworm and there was an earthquake above you, you'd be scurrying away as fast as possible too. Might not even want to come back.

When tilling is involved, all the settled and comfortable organisms are exposed to an alien, inhabitable environment (even though its only some inches higher) and are subject to unfavorable conditions, stressed and can potentially die, unable to regenerate your soil or preserve its nutrient contents.

In addition, messing with your soil too heavily can increase soil compaction, bring up years old weed seeds above ground initializing them to sprout (little do many people know, many seeds need light to germinate).

(If you are concerned too about your CO2 levels, it's good to note that tilling increases CO2 release when soil is broken up (and I suppose through use of a tiller...).  Instead, to aerate and "fluff" up your soil don't do more than use a garden fork to poke holes in the soil all around to allow air and water in.)

Fertilizer or compost in DOES NOT have to be dug into the ground. Regular watering will help nutrients seep into the soil or earthworms themselves will bring the nutrients and organic matter into the ground as well as produce their own "fertilizer" for you.  *cough* think of them as tiny pink legless bovines.  No tilling also increases earthworm population, an indicator of great soil and it is suggested to take "core" samples of your soil (you can use a shovel if you like) to get an idea of how many earthworms you have in your soil.  More, the better usually.  If your soil becomes less rich in organic material, the earthworms will simply move elsewhere, so... keep them happy and fed!
Not tilling also more water efficient, keeping the soil less exposed and reducing the need to weed as well as reduced erosion.  This method's ability to retain water is due in part to its emphasis on the need to mulch (think tree leaves in the forest again).  Mulching is easier, and less expensive than than most people realize.  You don't need to go out and buy expensive stuff.  Newspaper, dried out grass (or grass that has been cut and set out for at least a month because it will actually draw fertilizing nitrogen OUT from the soil rather than put it into the soil when fresh), straw (with assurances the grass seed is dead), hay, wood shavings, forest "duff" (I'm lucky, I have pine trees behind my property that provides such duff), and green mulches/cover crops are excellent mulches.

Cover crops can compromise no till somewhat as the vegetation being used as a cover crop must be turned prior to it going to seed, but it is still less damaging to the soil than deep tilling.

Proponents of the no-till method include the Rodale Institute,the great Masanobu Fukuoka and many other organic and ecological groups.

The Rodale Institute is a highly regarded organic gardening, farming, ecological group that is involved in publishing many great garden books I enjoy.

Lesser known is Masanobu Fukuoka, an originator of the "No Work" gardening method.  While I am intrigued by his many methods towards natural gardening, I don't think I have enough land to grow the cereal grains he relies on to keep in his garden cycle and feel more drawn to biointensive/synergistic/permaculture gardening.  I highly suggest that if you are interested to read about it on the site listed below.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

In the air, that's when it hits me.

I have been ignoring the changing colors, the dropping pine needles and leaves scattering, and then piling themselves up around the base of trees.

While walking the dog however I was caught by a scent. I sniffed, and then sniffed again.

*sigh* The scent of things turning, leaves decomposing, the mustiness of things winding down. This made me finally realize that it really becoming autumn and that it wasn't just August in a different dress.

I won't be quitting my garden come fall and even winter if I can avoid it. Things can still grow then, but yes, things are beginning to slow and I will be hunkering down, focusing on garden learning, writing, crafts and houseplants to sustain me.

For some reason autumn makes me think of a great song from a Cincinnati band I grew up listening to: Over-the-Rhine. They have a song called, "Falling (Death of a Tree)" that is beautiful and fitting for how I feel. Karin Bergquist's voice has an unearthly quality so give it a

The lyrics can be found on the last track of their album, Eve, if you so wish to check it out..

Ah, nostalgia.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Malabar Spinach seed saving--- this might get a little messy (Don't forget to comment for the seed GIVEAWAY)

I was interested in documenting my malabar seed saving, as the seed is encased in a small dark purple-black fruit seed coat and wondered how involved it would get. The answer: PRETTY FREAKIN' INVOLVED.

I originally intended to just let the seeds dry out in their fruit, as I read could be done, but the chances of the fruit molding, or going bad and thus turning the seed bad was too great and I wanted to be sure the seeds were in good condition, so I decided to scrub the juicy fruity bits off.

On an earlier day, I picked a small, but plentiful basket full of malabar spinach berries(?):

(berries are tiny and encased in each is a seed)

I then took out the colander and a larger metal bowl to capture anything that might get washed out of the colander because I didn't want to lose a viable seed.

Remembering having heard that the fruit is a well know vegetable dye, and having many plain white rags around that I use for cleaning which my Aunt Louise gifts me every time I see her (Thanks Aunt Louise!), I decided to experiment and place one of the cleaner not stained rags under the colander so that all the fruit juices/dye would splash on and dye the rag, hopefully a rather pleasing purple-y color.

Yep, that's a really purple-pink (magenta I suppose?) color! I ended up getting another rag to dye  partially because my hand was beginning to get a wee bit raw from scraping fruit against the metal colander holes. Kind of like a grater. I swear no bits of my fingers will be in any requested seed packets!

Mmmmm, fruit flesh encrusted rag! But it gives you a good idea as to the color of the dye. I did have to add and swish water around to be able to move the fruit/seeds in the colander well, but the color was still pretty strong I think.

The other reason for the water was this:
The separated fruit fleshy bits float to the top so I can easily extract it from the seeds that sunk to the bottom of the colander. I attempted to use a spoon to scoop up the floating fruit bits, but ended up just tipping the bowl gently to allow the bits to drain away. The entire process was similar to panning for gold I'd say, though I haven't done that since I was 6 years old... and I think I might have been just pretending to pan for gold too after I read about it in a book on the 49ers...

Here I am still in the process of rubbing berries between my fingers and hands in the bowl to separate the seeds from flesh still.
Eventually, after doing this for a good while, and dumping the fruit flesh a couple of times after swishing with water, I am getting some clarity and the good seeds are at the bottom of the bowl. Any seeds that floated to the top were probably unripe or not viable for germination, so I allowed them to follow the fate of the fruit flesh, DOWN THE DRAIN, I mean, INTO THE COMPOSTER!
When I got everything clean enough, I dumped the seeds into the colander for a final swish and mini-scrub to make 'em squeaky clean.

I have an admission to make.... I have never dyed anything before and as I was sort of doing everything last minute and was feeling too lazy to do some real research I gleaned everything I could remember from my "wish I was a frontier girl" days (about 7 years old at that time, Little House on the Prairie and all that rot) and I chucked the malabar fruit colored water and rags into a pot and cranked the stove on high because I vaguely remember dying had something to do with boiling water. I added vinegar for good measure and realized later that maybe I was thinking of Easter eggs :(

Either way, after a while I turned off the pot of dye+rags and let it cool on its own before I let the rags drain of some of the water dye and then hung them on some metal, grated, sunroom furniture to dry.
(Note: Once dry, the color of the rags are just a bit lighter than this color and more PINK than mauve. Which I am not a huge fan of... I am thinking of attempting to try as little water as possible for the next batch of seed saving because dangit, I am NOT a pink fan. Gimme some royal purple baby).

Here are all the seeds I set out to dry on my dining room table on some newspaper... on some nice white table cloth (brill right?) Eh, tablecloths are meant to be used and abused. I would have loved to put them in a really sunny spot, but it was sort of cloudy that day/ rained later.
It appears that one of the seeds decided to sprout, possibly within its fruit coat! I sincerely doubt it was during its bath while I was handling it.
So, that was my seed saving adventure... and there's a whole heck of a lot more seeds to save... so, um, please, take them off my hands?

(UPDATE: I realized that I had forgotten to re-read this post before I sent it and there were a million grammatical and spelling errors, so my apologies... very sleepy when written)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Welcome to the Amphibian Witness Protection and Relocation Program, Mr. Frog/Toad have witnessed an indescribable event (probably having to do with the Mafioso Mayfly Gang) and we here at the AWPRP are whisking you away, for your own good, in the middle of the night from the tough concrete sidewalks from whence you came to a safe location plentiful in flies, beetles and bugs of all sorts for you to feast upon all day and night as well as easy access to luxurious moist soil baths.

This secret location is the home of a mysterious gardener and writer, as well as eccentric, who cares of your health and existence and avoids using dangerous chemicals in your living area, chemicals which have turned your fellow brethren into various Two-Face and Joker look alikes with web feet.

Please forgive us for the slightly uncomfortable Alien Abduction/Beam Me Up Scotty/Hand of God like effect it may feel while you are being transported. Slight wooziness may occur and really, DON'T feel ashamed if you have to "release" during your brief flight to the TOP SECRET Location, your eccentric host forgives you for the mess.

Just feast away on all the bugs my pretties!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Let your plants be an army, or commune (whichever way you want to swing) in the fight against pests and inorganic chemical gardening: Companion Planting

If there is a way to add diversity and keep pests at bay all the while looking lovely and enhancing resistances or tastiness in my garden without chemicals, I am there! That’s why I attempt to companion plant as often as possible even though not all of the suggestions of companion planting are tried and true scientifically. It is one of those age old, “Hmmm, this seems to work well together!” things that has done well for many gardeners of old and thus, keeping with tradition and having seen such positive results in my gardening past, I companion plant.

In brief, here are reasons that companion planting is a favorable, organic method of gardening and is just cool in general:

-Some plants exude certain chemicals that deter or confuse pests from noshing down of your plants, keeping your main crop healthy or less damaged by pests.

- Certain plants planted in proximity to another plant can affect the flavor of the other plant positively (need to be careful of this, because certain strongly scented/flavored plants can alter the flavor of a plant that you want to keep  in its original flavor).

-Plants that fix nitrogen or other minerals can fertilize another plant near it.

-One plant can be “bait” and act as a trap crop to save your prize crop from ruin.

-More plants, especially those of varying height forces pests to choose between plants, rather than them seeing the single massive skyscraper tomato plant available. Diversity is the antithesis of monocropping, meaning that it can be protect a garden from losing an entire crop because there’s so much to choose from! Nature is flexible and varied, so why shouldn't you be?

-Low growing companion plants may act like a groundcover than protects soil of the bed from drying out and may serve other functions such as fertilization or pest preventative.

-Multiple plants create mini-habitats/microclimates which attract, feed and house beneficial insects to take care of the actual baddies. These microclimates can also be helpful in ways such as shading an easily sun scaldable plant, such as bell peppers beneath a tall okra plant. Or borage plants attracting a brachonid wasp which infect hornworms on the tomato plant by the borage.

At the end of this post are some excellent sites with great companion planting lists. In a moment I will simply note a few of companion plants I use together.

How I companion plant:

-Strawberries with pole beans for fertilization and okra for shading, the beans climb up the okra too, like a Three Sisters effect sort of. Runner beans can be substituted for pole beans. Cucumber trellised up with the lot because they’re companions and fit. Borage planted here and there to enhance flavor and vigor of strawberries.

-Asparagus with tomatoes/peppers/eggplant and basil for flavor enhancement and pest prevention with French or Mexican marigold on the side or surrounding for pest/nematode prevention.

-Tomatoes with bush or pole beans for fertilization and basil and borage for tomato flavor enhancement and pest prevention. Sweet potato vine allowed to ramble to create a green groundcover to keep in soil moisture.

-Nasturtiums (so many types!) along the garden border all the time when possible as a trap crop and for food (until Mid South heat usually kills it) and garlic as a pest deterrent.

-French/Mexican marigold borders for pest/nematode preventative.

-Tiny flower herbs and very fragrant herbs planted all around such as oregano and mint (can be invasive though), to attract and nurse beneficials.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thanks for holding.

Hey, this is my last generic scheduled post, post-emo-i-tude (hopefully, as this one is scheduled too)

Working on turning a:

to this:

Just wanting to say, hold on, there's still more posts coming up with some companion planting and no-till gardening goodness so please, be patient for them sometime this week.

Hope all is well for you and your gardens and that harvests are coming in by the bushel!

May you stay on the side of the light and not the blight!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

GIVEAWAY (different one): Let the tasty spread, Malabar Spinach!

Malabar spinach was one of the great successes this year, creating the first Great Wall of Spinach in history (I can only presume... if anyone wants to challenge this, please take me up on this, send me a postcard or pic to dispute me, bring it!).

So the Great Wall of Spinach became the Great FLOWERING Wall of Spinach and I figured, once again like the perilla, I will have PLENTY of seed to go around and I will only need enough for my crop next year (if it doesn't come back on its own by possible heavy mulching like the stevia) and for relatives.

So, why not share once again?Once again, the rules are, just post a comment which I will then reply to your email address for your actual address to send you some free malabar spinach seeds that will fit in a regular sized envelope/not cost me more than a stamp to send to you.

This giveaway will be open for a month after this is posted and is free for the continental USA. I'd be happy to send outside the States, but would really really like to have some sort of S&H help there.

These seeds will be HARVESTED, DRIED, and PACKAGED by me.. so all the laborious work is going on all on my end, woohoo, I mean, wait--- HURRAY, really we all win, I get seeds in general, as do you and I also get the pleasure of knowing I am spreading some edible gardening goodness around!

I won't be able to attest as to the results of germination for the seeds, but hey, you're still getting something free just for a comment and ain't this so American? ;)

PS For those not even interested in growing malabar spinach, the fruit of the seed is well known to be a great dye. Purplish-dark mauve, trust me, my fingers have evidence.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pitcher plants and a side of flies please

I like to make my garden edible to all, for the birds, bees, me, possums, squirrels (damn things), even carnivorous plants :)

I was very lucky to get these beauties from Diane Meucci of Gardens Oy Vey and keep them in a non-draining shallow bowl to thrive. They originally were in a well draining hypertufa bowl I had made, but it was too well draining and the pitcher plants were having none of it, drying out and being sad.

I keep them by the water barrel next to some horsetail I keep confined in a pot in the drain hole of the rain barrel. My theory is that the mosquitoes and flies like to hang there and it's a good spot to keep the pitcher plants happy and well fed.

Well call me Seymour and eat me alive, aren't they pretty? They really get your heart going when they bloom, which I hope is either this or next year because those flowers are just unearthly and beautiful.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

FREE GIVEAWAY: ...the perilla is in bloom!

As I had mentioned previously in an earlier post, perilla/beefsteak plant is pretty amazing in its self-seeding-ness and......... its now in bloom.

Pretty, is it not? (If you like adorable self replicating tasty and pretty colored gremlins...)

All this...
....Can be yours!

So... while I know I have said it can be a scary plant a bit, it really is a good groundcover for those bare spots that you just want to have filled in It's tasty, wild basil-y anise-like and can handle nearly any conditions. I never water it, it likes sun and part shade...what more can you love?

So, for the GIVEAWAY:
If you leave a comment and I will reply back to you for your address I will be happy to send you a small homemade packet of the seeds that will fit and only cost me a stamp, HANDPICKED, WINNOWED and PACKAGED by me.

This giveaway will be open for up to a month after this posting and is free for those in the continental USA. If you are outside from here, we can potentially work something out with S&H.

Also I would like to note that while I have no doubt these seeds will germinate wonderfully, I will say that I can't guarantee they ALL will germinate.

ALSO, please check your invasive species lists to make sure that you're not propagating anything you shouldn't in your area

You just need to comment your interest in this seed because, dude, I have PLENTY to go around.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pardon any odd technical difficulties...

Working on getting the stupid wonky layout of this page figured out... I was just too lazy in the past to fix it appropriately and forgot that everyone else in the world may not be viewing this on the tiny screen of a netbook...

Therefore, by tomorrow, with luck, your viewing pleasure will be enhanced positively.

Lavender Vodka

What can you use for cleaning, your hair and is delicious?

Lavender Vodka!

Yep, I had some Munstead lavender in bloom (Munstead is good for this location with its high heat/humidity) and have yet to use it in my evil plans of making lavender vanilla creme brulee, so I decided to allow the soon fading blooms to soak in a recycled Frank's Hot Sauce bottle with some cheap vodka.

There the alcohol will draw out the flavor/scent and be great for cleaning (as the high alcohol content is a disinfectant), you can get rid of cat pee stains from it (use plain vodka with this one), spray it on clothes to freshen them up (the alcohol smell fades completely away), in your hair to make it smell good and remove product buildup, and make lavender-tinis.

The taste of a lavender martinis (I know, I know, REAL martinis are made from gin, yada yada, and this is especially true for the hibiscus martinis... if you want the recipe you'll have to ask) is pretty floral to the EXTREME, so take caution when using.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Will return to regularly scheduled programming...

... I've been feeling sort of run down and emo as of late and need a bit of a mental break and thus will be taking a short hiatus from life for a while (about a business week).

I will however be having regularly scheduled short posts to fill in the blankness and blankity-blankness of life so please, stay tuned folks.

When I return, there will be thorough goodness on companion planting and no-till gardening! Delicious!

I know that my latest posts have been of the the buggy nature rather than the plant-y one, so I will get back to my roots (pun very much intended)

Allow me to distract you with a plethora of ornamental peppers:
These are a combination of the tri-colore garda and calico ornamental peppers that I so adore. Most of them ripened up to the usually associated pepper red color, so that's a little boring as I wanted to have a bit more variety in my pepper jelly I am going to make from them, but color doesn't change their flavor (aka heat, so I'll live).

I like running the little peppers through my hands... they remind me of tiny gems, rubies, topazes, amethysts and such. Or of brightly colored jelly beans! Wouldn't that be evil to leave in a candy dish?

I am extremely idiotic when it comes to handling hot peppers though. I have a bad habit of rubbing my eyes all the time and as you can guess... yeah, ALWAYS burn my eyes when I handle peppers and I can't bring myself to wear gloves because REAL chili pepper lovers don't use gloves (*MANLY CHEST THUMP* here)!

This recent pepper foray led me to wash my hands 5 various times with dish soap after an initial vodka hand rinse (I read that vodka is good at getting oils off and can be used as a poison ivy treatment too). (I used the vodka to make a killer bloody mary btw).

Even after all that washing and vodka-ing (for Science, I say!) I still was getting some numbing burning in my eye.

CONCLUSION: Chili oil is a stubborn chemical to remove and should be utilized on younger siblings, evil neighborhors, husbands, BUGS & PLANT THIEVES.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Did cotton candy explode on you or is that just your face---? Brachonid Wasps!

So, my double happiness (to get super Chinese on you) happened the same day I caught the tachinid fly accosting the hornworm:

Those weird cotton q-tip end shaped things are actually the larvae cocoons of the brachonid wasps!

YES! More beneficial insects in my garden! The system is not broken here!

Remember how I mentioned tiny flowers were very important in the garden? Well this is another beneficial insect whose adult form relies on those flowers for food while, once again, parasitizing (for moi) all the baddies in my garden.

Unfortunately I don't have any personal pics of the wasp itself but the links at the end of this posting will allow you to view the wasp in its full glory.

This wasp has an ovipositor (think the movie Aliens, sort of) on its rear that is like a long needle which injects its eggs into its hosts. Most of the time the time when the larvae are near the end of their cycle they end up killing the host while pupating inside it or near the host's dead body.

The really cool thing about the wasp and its egg-laying-larvae-living-in-host thing that really gets my ex-microbiologist wanna be self going is that that the wasp actually utilizes VIRUS SYMBIOSIS to suppress its hosts' systems and allow their larvae to develop within!

Brachonid wasps feed on many other pests such as aphids and certain flies and as many aphids live in colonies, when one aphid shows sign of brachonid wasp infection or has been "mummified" by an exiting wasp larva, that usually means the rest of the colony has been infected as well. SCORE!

It is good to note too that these wasps are only 12 mm in length and do not tend to sting people, so as they say in the Hitchhiker's Guide: "DON'T PANIC," when you see a wasp (in general). Unless of course you have an allergy... then, just walk slowly away...

I left my brachonid infected hornworm alone so that the larvae will develop and do their good work on the rest of the nasty green giants.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Green Lacewings!

Can you see it?

See it now?

It's a green lacewing egg! One tiny, singular egg, but still reproduction among the lacewings is going on.

I'm not sure if this lacewing egg comes from completely natural means or from an eggs/larvae I ordered months ago from Gardens Alive that I released.  Either way I'm just excited about this egg, though puzzled too because it's the second or third lacewing egg on a tomato fruit, which is not the best place for a lacewing egg to be, for me at least, because if a fruit is ripe, I need to eat it egg or not.

Lacewings are one of the best beneficial insects to have the garden.  As with many of the beneficial insects, the adults dine on flower pollen and nectar as well as aphid honeydew (a sticky-sweet secretion aphids exude).

It is their predaceous, voracious larvae, also known as "aphid lions" that make quick use of soft bodied pests such as mites, aphids,  mealybugs, thrips, beetle larvae, leafhoppers,  and certain caterpillars.  They dispatch their prey using long mandible jaws which hold their food and then inject a paralyzing venom into the prey which they will then suck the fluids from.  Whee, slurpies!

As female lacewings are rather reproductive, with hundreds of eggs laid a season to equate to potentially 2-6 generations during the growing season (depending if you have a mild winter or not)  with larvae overwintering in small crevices in the ground if it gets cold in your location.

Lacewings do particularly well in high humidity, so they are great in greenhouses, if only I had one :( or in southeastern United States, where I am, yea!

Unfortunately the adult lacewings are most active at night, when I am rarely in the garden, but you can identify them (in pics from the following links) and by their on average 18mm long selves with pale green lace-like wings and golden large eyes.

Larvae are reminiscent of ladybug larvae, like little yellow and brown alligators vs the red and black ones of the lady beetles.

Give adult lacewings a safe dry place to stay by cutting off the bottom of a 2 liter plastic bottle, loosely roll a piece of corrugated cardboard inside, but taut enough to stay in the bottle without falling out and cutting off any extraneous that sticks out from cut bottom.  This provides many crevices for adult lacewings to hide in.  Hang the bottle by the small mouth near a covered location like your eaves or a tree/bushes.