Monday, July 30, 2012

Late Blight

Blight is one of those words that make all organic vegetable gardeners cringe. We are not strangers to early blight here. It is a disease common in our area, and once you get it in your soil you never really get rid of it. Early blight is somewhat manageable. You have to continuous prune off the affected leaves, and you can spray with compost tea, milk wash or an organic fungicide like Greencure. Early blight can be quite destructive during humid wet conditions, but most years i am still able to harvest a good amount of tomatoes before the plants die back.

Early blight is easy to identify. It usually begins on the lower leaves, and starts as irregular brown spots surrounded by yellow halos. As the disease progresses, you'll start to see brown spots on the stems as well.

This year i got hit with Late Blight. Late blight is one of the most devastating diseases of potato and tomato worldwide. It was responsible for the devastating Irish potato famine of the 1840's and can result in complete destruction of potato or tomato crops.

When i first noticed the brown spots on the leaves, i didn't really think much of it. We get early blight every year, and although the spots were lacking the yellow halo i still assumed it was just early blight.

i have been extremely excited about my tomatoes this year. i planted 40+ tomato plants all heirlooms , many started from seed. All summer i have been dreaming of canning pasta sauce and salsa, of eating fresh tomato sandwiches with big fat slices of Cherokee purples.

i have been watching my tomatoes obsessively. Picking off the early blight, adding fresh compost around the bases, spraying with Epson salts when they showed early signs of magnesium deficiency. i brewed Comfry tea and manure tea to give them extra nutrients to create strong healthy plants. They were looking incredible. My plants were huge, dark green and loaded with huge fat green tomatoes. i was already envisioning my best tomato year ever.

Then the rain started.

It rained, and rained and rained. The evening temps became strangely cool for July, brown water soaked spots began to appear on a few of my tomatoes, and then three of my beautiful heirloom plants, shriveled and died almost overnight.

i really had no idea what could have happened, but i pulled and burned the plants and continued to monitor the others. Then i received an email that made my heart sink. The email subject was Late blight Alert in Floyd County. i immediately began to research late blight.

Late blight typically appears during periods of wet cool weather. It first appears as water soaked brown spots, with fuzzy white on the backsides.
i knew immediately that is what had killed my plants so quickly. Late blight can kill an entire tomato crops within a week if the conditions are right. It spreads quickly, and is resistant to most organic pesticides and treatment. The most effective organic protectant is copper. This should be applied to your plants before you notice signs of late blight.

Once you see the spots, there is very little that can be done. i purchased bionide copper fungicide and immedatly began spraying all of my tomatoes (i have three separate gardens with tomatoes planted). The first plants died around July 21. By July 24 i had found late blight just beginning in a second garden. By July 26th, all of my tomatoes had the spots.

Less than a week ago this was a beautiful, healthy, lush plant and in just a few days almost all of the foliage is gone. The plant will be dead by the end of the week.

Besides the damage to the actual plants, the tomatoes themselves are affected by late blight. The green tomatoes often develop brown lesions which can affect the entire tomato. If allowed to ripen on the vine, the tomatoes will just rot. From what i have read, if picked green and allowed to ripen the tomatoes may turn red, but will not sweeten and the flavor will not be great.

Also tomatoes affected by late blight are not suitable for canning.

This is by far the most devastating disease i have ever experienced. i have 100+ lbs of beautiful green tomatoes that will never ripen. :( i really can't even begin to express how heart sick i am over the loss of all these tomatoes. Because i can not bring myself to throw them out, i've started compiling a pinboard of recipes that use green tomatoes.

Although this years tomato crop will not fill my cupboards with jars of sauce and salsa for the winter, it is not completely wasted.

In trying to stay optimistic about the situation, the one positive thing is that Late blight does not over winter in the soil. The pathogens should be killed off during the winter, and it really requires specific weather conditions to appear and spread. So the likely hood of getting it again next year is not a guarentee. Also, because i now know what to look for, it is were to appear again i can remove the plants immediately and begin treating the others before it becomes a total loss. i've been gardening for 12 years, and this is a first. It is devastating, but also a learning experience.

Despite the gardener's best intentions, Nature will improvise. ~Michael P. Garafalo

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Broody hens and RIP White Leghorn & Golden Campine.

Earlier this month we lost 2 of our hens. The first was the lovely Golden Campine. We haven't named any of our recent birds, because as fate has it we tend to lose the ones we name first. i'm not sure if she was just old, or if she was actually sick. She was one of the hens that came with our new coop. i know she was one of the older birds, 4 or 5 years old i believe. She had always looked rather thin and fragile and a bit sickly when we first got her, a few weeks before she passed she began dragging her tail a bit. So i wasn't really that surprised when i found her dead one morning. None of the other birds have shown any signs of illness, so i'm leaning towards the belief that it was just her time.

The other hen we lost was my White leghorn. i was really bummed to lose her, as she was one of my best layers. She was a small to medium size hen, but she laid large white eggs. She quite often laid double yolks. She also had a lot of personality. She followed me all over the garden digging through the compost i put down, or gobbling up any worms i dug. She once surprised me when i went took the lid of the chicken feed can she jumped right in and started eating the corn before i could even scoop some out. She is also the bird that spent 12 days underneath a bucket without food or water and survived!

So, as you can imagine i was really bummed to go out to put my chickens up and find her dead outside the door of the pen. There was no sign of trauma, and i'm pretty certain both of my dogs were in the house at the time. So i'm not sure what happened. There was a small trail of feather a few feet up the hill from her. So i'm suspecting she was walking down to the door, and was hit by something at the top of the hill, and rolled the rest of the way down. The only thing i can think up would be a hawk, but why wouldn't it take her? Perhaps it got spooked, or she was too big to carry off. i also wondered if it could have been one of the roosters. We only have two right now, but my little banty rooster is pretty aggressive. Then i began to question whether my dogs had been in the house or not. It wouldn't be the first time they killed one of my birds. i suppose this is one of those mysteries i'll never really solve.

So when my Australorp went broody, i was excited to hatch out a few new peeps. She originally started off with 6 eggs, but after a few days of setting most of the eggs had disappeared. So we gave her some new eggs and again, all of her eggs disappeared. Around the same time a second hen when broody, so i gave her a few extra eggs to set on and gave my Australorp a wooden egg. My hope is that she'll continue to set, and i'll be able to sneak her a couple chicks from the other hen's clutch when they begin to hatch. She just wants to be a mama so badly, i hate for her to not hatch any babies.

This is the second hen to go broody and she's setting on 6 eggs. She's one of my wild girls and i really wanted to avoid hatching out more wild game birds, so i took her original clutch of eggs and replaced them with eggs from some of my domestic hens. So she's setting on 2 americana eggs, 1 Black Star, 1 buff Orpington and 2 white leghorn (from the hen i lost). i was pretty happy that i still had a few of my leghorns eggs in a basket setting on my counter, so as long as they were fertilized they should hatch out.

A few days later my favorite black hen went missing. i immediately had that feeling of dread, then rationalized that there was a good chance she was broody just seemed to be in the air. So i went to check the shed and found her setting right smack in the middle of the shed on a wooden egg. ha ha. poor girl. So i hand picked some eggs for her (marked them with a sharpie) and found a slightly safer nest hidden in the hay. She immediately accepted the new eggs, and has been incubating them since. i can't remember exactly what i gave her, but i believe she is setting on eggs from my Barred Rock, Black Star, Buff Orpington, Polish and Delaware.

If all of the eggs hatch we'll have 11 new peeps added to our flock. However, i'm guessing from experience they will not all hatch. i believe our new rooster has been doing his job, but i won't really know for another week or so. i had marked on the calender that the eggs would be hatching August 2, but that was for when the hen first started setting, and those eggs were replaced twice. So i think it'll probably be a few days after that.

It is never easy losing a good hen, but i'm looking forward to some new peeps soon. i'm really hoping that the White leghorn eggs hatch, so that we can have a part of that hen still with us.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Baby birds

A few weeks ago, around the end of June we happened upon a little nest at the edge of the woods. The nest was only about 3 feet off the ground, supported by a couple of very thin branches and bouncing around each time the wind blew. It did not seem like an ideal place for a birds nest.

Inside the nest were two tiny eggs with a few light speckles on them. i got a quick look at the mama bird and she was small, grey and didn't really have any distinguishing features.

The nest had a rather unique look to it, so i started looking up a few different kinds of birds and their nests, and i believe this nest belongs to a Vireo. Each time we walked down to the creek we peeked inside the nest to see if the eggs were still there.

On July 9, we were excited to see that the babies had finally hatched! They had no feathers and their eyes were closed. They opened up their beaks looking for food as soon as we got near.

We checked them again on July 14. The feathers were just beginning to come in now, but their eyes were still closed. My daughter was completely fascinated by these little guys.

Just a few days later on July 17, we checked them again and were excited to see that they had feathers and heir eyes were open. They grow so fast!

When we checked them on July 21st there was only one baby in the nest. i hoped that mama was teaching the other baby to fly, and this one just hadn't gotten there yet. i didn't have my camera with me at the time, but i took the kids back a down a little later and both both babies were gone.

In the very bottom of the nest was a tiny snail shell.

i actually hadn't noticed it, but my daughter did. She believes it was a gift left from mama bird, thanking us for checking on and watching out for her babies when she wasn't sitting on the nest. :)
It doesn't matter if we are raising butterflies, tadpoles or watching baby birds grow...there is so much magic in the world. It is such an amazing feeling to witness my children experiencing that *magic* with so much enthusiasm and appreciation. It is in those moments that i feel like i am doing something right.

To find the universal elements enough;
to find the air and the water exhilarating;
to be refreshed by a morning walk
or an evening saunter;
to be thrilled by the stars at night;
to be elated over a bird's nest
or a wildflower in spring
- these are some of the rewards of the simple life.
~ John Burroughs ~

Monday, July 23, 2012

Around the Garden

Hey folks, sorry for all the test posts coming through and the random posts from a few months ago. i've been having some problems with blogger and have been working on getting it figured out. i have no idea why it is republishing old posts. Weird!!

This is a busy season for us, so i haven't been posting much. My gardens are doing pretty well this year, although with the recent rain blight has showed up on my tomatoes and the cucumber beetles and squash vine borers have been terrible. i've already pulled three tomatoes that spontaneously died, and 3 squash that wilted. i had to burn a couple of my squash plants, and dug vine borers out of 3 others.

Despite a few set backs, i am still harvesting a good amount of food.

This photo was taken around July 9th. It was my morning harvest for the day. The red potatoes came out of my kid's garden, and i picked the green beans, kale, Swiss chard and broccoli for dinner. We used the blackberries for dessert in some greek yogurt, and i attempted sauerkraut for the first time with the red cabbage.

i'm thrilled to see my tee pee trellises actually work this year. Last year the beans i purchased were mislabeled. They were bush beans instead of pole beans, so they looked really silly growing at the base of my elaborate trellis. :) These tee pees have purple pole beans on the twine between each tee pee, cucumbers on the twine between the poles and scarlet runners going up the actual poles. So far they are working well, and look amazing!

Linki had a couple cucumber come up randomly, and they looked so healthy i decided to leave them where they were and put together this decorative trellis, just for fun. So far it is working really well, and looks neat...but i suspect the cucs may eventually tear it down. Cucumbers do not have to be trellised. i personally prefer to keep them up off the ground, so it is easier to spot cucumber beetles and pickle worms. :)

i planted a ton of squash this year, anticipating problems with the squash vine borers and cucumber beetles. i've been harvesting the dark green zucchini for a couple of weeks now, and am just now begining to harvest grey zucchini. Zucchini is one of those plants that can be planted every three weeks during the summer. Most varieties only require about 55 days until harvest, so i like to plant up until August. This way if you lose a few plants to disease or pests, you have new plants just begining to produce, and more new plants just coming up. i also planted patty pans, yellow squash, winter squash and pumpkins.

Many of my greens are still doing fairly well. The lettuce in my cold crop garden bolted is all bitter, so i've left it to go to seed. i had planted a few other rows in garden #2, and they are still producing well and haven't gotten terribly bitter yet. i also have several varieties of kale growing in this bed.

Another morning harvest picture, this one from July 16th. i dug a few more red potatoes from garden #2. We are still getting planty of swiss chard, and kale. i'm still getting a bit of lettuce, although most of it has gotten too bitter to eat. i'm still harvesting a few florets from the broccoli, and getting a small handful of sugar snap peas. We are just beginning to get some ripe tomatoes, but we've been enjoying may of them fried green. We are getting lots of purple beans, and i've been working to get them frozen. i'm also hoping to get some canned this year as well. We are still getting lots of eggs from our ladies and we are picking lots of blackberries too! i've made two batches of jam so far, and hope to make at least one more.

We've been enjoying our summer so far, and i'm going to be really sad to see it end. It has felt extremely short this year, and i'm already beginning to dread the fall.

i'm hoping my tomatoes pull through so i can get a bunch of them canned. i was going through my cupboard and i only have a couple of last year's homemade pasta sauce left! Ack!

How is your garden growing??

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Work for Sale.

i'm finally (only took about a month) getting back into the groove of having both kids at home during the week. Things were really hectic for a while, with summer day trips, company and trying to get my garden completely planted.
So here we are in July, and my kids have finally stopped fighting constantly...and they actually play together! They are nolonger constantly bored, instead enjoying this time to read, write letters, make up games, day dream and just be kids. It's nice.

This has allowed me to pull out my work, and be crafty again. Right now i am trying to get my store stocked with bendy dolls and accessories, but i really, really want to pick up the Waldorf dolls again. i will, in time.

Anyhow, here are the new items i have available!

Woodland Acorn family set. The set is $25 shipped first class (US). Mama has red hair and blue eyes, and papa has dark brown hair/beard and green eyes.

Woodland Gnome family set. The set is $25 shipped first class (US). Mama has dark brown hair and golden/brown eyes, and papa has light brown hair/beard and blue eyes.

Purple fairy. Black hair, blue eyes. $12 shipped first class (US).

Acorn Cap girl with apron. Blond hair, brown eyes. She is $12 shipped first class (US).

Acorn Cap Fairy. Blond hair, greenish/blue eyes. She is $12 shipped first class (US).

All bendy dolls are approx. 3" tall, and are not suitable for children under 3. The dolls in the family set can be purchased individually if you do not want the set.

These three sets are sold, but i am in the process of making a few more. So if your interested, keep an eye on my facebook page. i will be listing a new set in the next day or two. i will also be starting some new dragons. i got a bit burned out on them, but am ready to tackle a few more.

i have a few other premade bendy dolls/sets available in my for sale folder so feel free to take a peek!

Have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What's Growing- July

i can't believe it is already July! In just the last two weeks my garden has doubled in size, and my vegetables have started really producing.

The first week of July, and we are still harvesting lots of greens. Kale, Swiss chard and some lettuce. The arugula, spinach and Buttercrunch have all bolted and gone to see. i'm still getting a lot of the Majesty (red) and the green leaf lettuce. Surprisingly, despite the heat is has not bolted or gotten bitter yet.
i harvest my first purple cabbage (and made sauerkraut), and have two more to pick. This was my first year growing cabbage, as my family won't eat it. The purple cabbage is a beautiful plant to grow. The flavor of the cabbage is quite sweet, and delicious raw. i've been searching a few recipes that i can make with it. i've really been enjoying it just added to my regular salads, it adds crunch and a pleasant sweet taste.

i am still getting some peas, although the plants are starting to yellow and die back. i'm also harvesting strawberries now! Seems a bit late, but i didn't get that many this spring, so i'm happy to have them!

i'm getting a surprising amount of broccoli still. The main heads were harvested several weeks ago, but the plants will continue to produce florets or mini-heads. i think i've harvested more broccoli from the mini-heads than i did in the original harvest. Every couple days i can go out and pick more than enough for dinner.

The blueberries have been really abundant this year as well. i've been picking 4-5 cups everything couple of days. 1 have about 12 quarts frozen so far, and we've been eating them fresh freely. We've been enjoying blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup on the weekends, greek yogurt with fresh blueberries, frozen blueberry-yogurt pops, blueberries with fresh cream and blueberries by the handful!

This year i planted Blue Podded Blauwschokkers, Dwarf grey and sugar snap peas. The blossoms and pods on the blue podded shelling peas were absolutely gorgeous, however i was not all that impressed with the peas. i shelled some fresh, and cooked them up. They were bland, tasteless and ugly. They cooked to a slightly greenish grey, and were not overcooked. They are intended to be a dry soup pea, so maybe that is why they weren't very good fresh.
The Dwarf grey i planted for the first time last year. Again i was won over by the beautiful purple blossoms. Dwarf grey are intended to be a snow pea, so you can pick and eat the pods when they are young. They do better in cold weather and although they continue to be prolific in the heat the pods become tough and fibrous.
Lastly i grew sugar snaps. These are by far the most delicious tender and perfect pea for eating fresh. They are my kids absolute favorite, and i'm pretty disappointed that i wasted so much space on the other peas.
i left the rest of the Blauwschokkers and Dwarf grey to dry in their pods for seed. i planted the two varieties next to each other, so i'm curious to see if they cross pollinated. i may plant a few next year as ornamentals, but i won't waste my garden space on these tasteless peas again. This fall i will be sticking with the sugar snaps.

Most of my tomatoes are green still, but i have one pathetic looking potted tomato that is completely loaded with tomatoes! i have already picked two beautiful red ripe tomatoes, and have a third that should be ripe in the next few days.

My beans are producing like crazy. i've already started blanching/freezing them, and plan to finally pull out my pressure canner and get some canned this year. These are the Royalty Purple bush beans. We love them. They are delicious and tender, and turn green when you cook them. My kids love them raw.

My pepper plants are not looking very impressive. They are small, and haven't grown that much since they wre planted...but several of them have giant peppers on them.

It seems like my zucchini plants doubled in size literally overnight. A few days ago i was just beginning to see blooms and a few baby fruit, and now my plants are loaded with zucchinis. Most are about 3-4" inches long, but in another day or two i'll be harvesting them.

My potatoes have just started to die back, and we've already dug some that were in the kids garden. i also planted corn, okra, cucumbers, pattypan squash, pumpkins, winter squash, beans, beans and more beans. :) i have purple beans, green beans, pole beans, yardlong beans, Scarlet runners and soy beans. As soon as the peas are pulled i will be planting more.

This next month will be crazy with harvest and canning. i can't quite decide whether i'm looking forward to it, or dreading it. Without a/c the house gets really warm with the canner running all day. It is all worth it though, when winter comes round and we can reach into the cupboard and pull out our home grown fruit, vegetables and sauces.

How is your garden growing?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why are my Squash Dying?

This is one of the most common gardening questions i hear. New and sometimes even experienced gardeners often panic when they see their plants flowering but not producing any squash or when they see the tiny fruits yellowing and falling off.

If you are experiencing this problem, don't panic.

Squash blossoms are a familiar sight if you grow any kind of squash. However, did you know there are two different kinds of blossoms? Each plant produces both male and female flowers. In order for your plant to produce fruits, the male flowers must pollinate the female flowers. The male flowers will open up, and then eventually fall off without ever producing any fruit. The female flowers if pollinated, will grow into a squash.

Why do i feel like i'm giving a lesson on the birds and the bees?? :)

This looks like a tiny baby zucchini that is just beginning to grow. What it actually is, is a female flower. This little zucchini is actually the 'ovum' and is not yet pollinated. If it is successfully pollunated it will grow into a full sized zucchini. If it fails to be pollinated, it will turn yellow, shrivel up and die. This does not mean your zucchini are dying, it means your zucchini are not getting pollinated.

It's really easy to tell the difference between the boys and the girls, if you know what you are looking for. Here's an example of the female and male pumpkin blossoms. The photo on the left shows a female pumpkin blossom, with the pumpkin ovum at the base. The male flowers (on the right) are on long stalks, and do not have an ovum attached.

It is not uncommon for the plants to produce lots of boys, before it starts producing girls.

So if you are seeing lots of blossoms, but no fruit.... don't panic. It just means your plant is producing lots of boys, be patient and the girls will follow. If your getting a lot of boys, this is a great time to make some stuffed Squash blossoms. You just need to make sure and leave a few blossoms incase your female flowers appear and begin to open.

If you are getting all female flowers and no boys, you are probably seeing your baby squash turning yellow and dying. Again, be patient. Once the boy flowers appear, you will start getting fruit. This is a good reason to grow more than one plant, and plant several varieties of squash. Right now my zucchinis are producing only girl blooms and my pumpkins are producing boys. So as long as the bees do their job (transfer pollen from one to the other) my zucchini should be pollinated.

Now if you have both male and females flowers, and your baby squash are still falling off and dying you may want to hand pollinate.

All you need for hand pollination is a q-tip. Use the q-tip to collect some of the yellow pollen from the male flowers, and dab it on the stigma (the yellow center) on the female flowers. You can also just pick one of your male flowers, remove the petals and touch the pollen covered stamen to the stigma on your female flowers. That's it!

Hopefully this post will help out a few folks who are wondering why all their squash are dying or are producing flowers but not fruits.

Happy gardening!

Nesting Box Surprise!

My 6 year old daughter has taken on the job of daily egg collecting. She got the surprise of her life last week, when she opened the nesting box and saw this inside.

She came running into the house, completely out of breath. "MOm!!!!! There's a snake in the nesting box!!!! It gave me a heart attack!!!! i think it's a Black Mamba!!!!" Ha ha. So i went out, and sure enough there was a HUGE black snake in the chicken coop. It was however a Black Rat snake, not a Black Mamba. :)

So i went out, grabbed a big stick and tried to get it out of the coop. All the chickens were yelling. This unwelcome visitor really upset my ladies, quite understandabley. As soon as i got the stick near the snake it began to coil up, this allowed me to hook the stick under the largest of the loops and pull it over the edge of the box. The snakes own weight then caused it to fall out of the box.

Once it hit the ground, it tried to strike at me. Black snakes are not venomous or typically very aggressive, but they will bite if provoked. This one was quite upset with me for flipping her out of the nesting box. She was also over 4' long, and full of chicken eggs. lol. i continued to poke at her with the stick, trying to get her to go on her way. However, she completely ignored me and slithered right back under the chicken coop. Ack!!

This happened last week, and we haven't seen her since...but i suspect we'll be seeing her again before too long. Snakes are not an uncommon occurrence around here, although lifting the nesting box lid to see a snake that large is still quite a surprise! That was our excitement for the week. :)