Sunday, July 22, 2012

Notes from our ground

Our soil is undergoing therapy this week.

We decided on raised beds when planning our garden. It seemed like a pretty sensible thing to do at the time... that is until we peaked into our compost bin we had labored over, added to, turned around at the appropriate time and saw that um... there wasn't much in there.

Soil is expensive to buy so we thought hey, lets see what happens if we throw all of our dead dry leaves in the beds, cover them in buckets and buckets of used coffee grounds, a very thin layer of our own compost and fill the rest with free composted horse manure. It worked.... kind of.

We have Blossom-End-Rot on our tomatoes. 
Signs: Bottom of tomatoes are turning black
Problem: Too much nitrogen, inconsistent watering
Solution: Add Calcium

We have squash bugs, striped cucumber beetle and possibly the Colorado potato beetles.
Signs: Yellowing leaves, low yields
Problem: The bugs are laying eggs and eating our leaves which means the plant can not produce enough chlorophyll to feed itself and so the fruit yield is very low - if we get anything at all. Our cucumbers, zucchini's and beans have really taken a hit.
Solution: Kill the bugs! We have picked them off, sprayed them off, flicked them off, smashed them and finally sprayed with spinosad. This is the first time we have ever used anything on our garden at all, and honestly I'm still not totally comfortable with it. We will see how it works and how I feel about it in a few weeks. We also sprinkled wood ash around.

We have bunnies, birds and squirrels. 

Problem: They are eating all of our berries. I do mean ALL.
Solution: We have tried all of the usual things. At best we kept the birds away for a short while and invited the bugs, beetles and ants in.  Our best solution to saving the blackberries, which is all we have left, is to pick them before they are completely ripe and let them ripen in a bowl on the kitchen table. The flavor suffers, but at least there is something to nibble on.

Signs: We have empty beds
Problem: Our kale, lettuce and broccoli seedlings aren't looking so great.
Solution: I have no idea.  My seedlings always grow super tall and thin and then fall over. They were started on our enclosed back porch, which is like a little greenhouse. They have plenty of heat and light and I think I am watering them correctly, but something is off because I keep having the same issues with seedlings.

Problem: Flying, Feed & Water Waste, Noise, Eggs

Solution: We had to clip the flight feathers on the four hens because they were hopping right over the fences like they weren't even there.
They are pretty quiet animals until they are upset about something, like their food is spilled or they are out of water because they knocked it over for the third time that day. We have plans to hang the feeder and waterer this week. I am a little concerned that their tantrums will upset a neighbor. That would be really bad. We are consistently getting 3 eggs per day right now. Which should be enough to feed our family, but we are rationing the eggs.  They are still pullet size and will probably remain on the small side for a while. I'm starting to wonder if we should have 5-6 hens instead of just 4.

I don't think we are alone in our struggling garden this year.  Today I cut out squash vine borer's at mother-in-laws house and it felt completely gratifying to smash those little punks. Her tomatoes are taller than me and some are already turning red.... her soil is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

The great news of this year trial garden is that we have only bought carrots once this season. The rest we are just pulling as we need. We harvested our potatoes as small new potatoes because all of the leaves were turning brown and falling over (beetles). The 21 garlic bulbs are drying on the back porch. I've pickled a few cucumbers and we've devoured the zucchini that we did get before the bugs. We bought peas once, and we have consistently been eating peas every week since May. We just started a second planting. We ate all of our broccoli's in the course of about 2 weeks. I need to plant a lot more next year. A bunny ate our cauliflower. I need to learn how to hunt?
We have re-tilled and added more of our own compost to a few beds and  planted some oats and peas in a bed that was just a rock hard soil mess and we transplanted the green peppers and onions.

 Despite all the bugs, drought, and soil problems we are still eating well. I have never been more grateful for organic farmers in my life.

My 7 year old chose this recipe and made this dinner herself. Broiled Shrimp Parmesan over angel hair spaghetti with a Spinach-Mushroom Salad.

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