Friday, July 12, 2013

Always Something

This whole gardening thing has been a huge learning experience and just when I think I've got it, something happens that reminds me that I am not all that in the gardening world.  After going to bed last night, the rain began to come in and in fear of the wind blowing it over again, I was forced to go back out to close the umbrella over the chicken coop.  We got some pretty substantial rain last night, so much so, that some of the 7 foot corn stalks fell over at the root or snapped in two.  This morning's first task was to assess the "damage" which included about 5 or 6 stalks out of the 35 down.  The ground was so saturated that mud was a big issue and I decided to wait on building up the stalks with more dirt until the garden dried up a bit.  I used some random pieces of wood to stake the bases of the stalks but I'm thinking this only a short term solution.

Some methods for avoiding this problem include:
Planting your seeds 6" deep and covering them with 1" of soil
Continually build up the roots and base of the stalk
Put up wire between rows
Hope for sunshine (as stalks will sometimes rise again!)

So back to being fooled that I know more about gardening than I actually do.  Our patio salad tomatoes were looking great until a couple of weeks ago when we noticed black spot begin to develop.  In an effort to keep the plant growing strong, we bought Garden Safe Fungacide 3 to spray on the plants.  It worked surprisingly well and after 2 applications we are getting some yummy tomatoes!

Some tips for avoiding fungus on tomatoes:
Keep plants from touching the ground
Put straw around base of plants to keep the soil from splashing on the leaves
Fertilize often as rain can wash away nutrients - and tomatoes suck up those nutrients big time!

The broccoli hasn't yet begun to produce heads (except for 1), but I have learned that it is probably better to cover them with a net immediately after planting.  This keeps those pesky cabbage worms and other worms things that are black and yellow off of your plants!  However, at this point in the broccoli's growth I would have to make sure that the plants were completely worm-free before covering them - something I'm not sure I could ensure.  I read somewhere that those white butterflies can lay around 400-600 eggs in a night!  Sheesh!  So, despite trying a homemade soap spray and using the Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap, I think the best way to battle these chicken snacks is to manually pick them off every single day!  Yuk.  The chickens are happy though!

Most days I think I've got it mastered then a new challenge presents itself.  For now, it's fun that we are finally reaping the benefits of all the labor put into this project.  Thank goodness I don't work in the summer!  This is a part-time job - one that I love by the way!

Friday, July 5, 2013


As I sit typing this post, with Honza the Cairn Terrier stretched out on my legs, I look out at our garden and have to suppress a gasp of wonder.

Perhaps it is a defence mechanism, but I had mentally prepared myself for stunted growth, wilted vegetables, and soil that would make a better clay pot than growing medium. As things stand, I would say all that turning the soil over, digging in compost, and building a deer fence has been worth it. I keep hearing this phrase about corn, that it should be 'knee high by the fourth of July', my knees much be on the top of my head in that case as it is easily six and half feet at the moment. Looking at all this growth though makes me think about all the people that have inspired and helped us on our way, whether or not they knew about it.

Probably our primary source of inspiration and help has been the many books we have bought and read over the years in preparation for having our little plot of land - minor aside, the combined area of our vegetable beds is about 360 square feet, or 33.4 square metres, which is bigger than our first apartment together in Prague. So I thought that I would give some shout outs to people that have inspired or been mentors to Ash and I.

I can't remember the first time I watched Escape to River Cottage, but I was hooked instantly. I love food and I love cooking, so a show about how to make food better by growing your own was always likely to keep me coming back for seconds. As a result of watching the various series, I own The River Cottage Cookbook, and have plans now that I am working again to buy a few more of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's books, as well as a box set of dvds, here's one of my favourite clips...

Just after Ash and I left Prague to come and live in Virginia, we were in a Cracker Barrel having breakfast and as I wandered around the little shop that is part and parcel of the Cracker Barrel experience, I noticed a book which has become something of a go-to reference work for me, The Backyard Homestead. With loads of advice on how, where and what to grow, this book has been an invaluable source of knowledge for us, as it's dog eared corners attest. With plenty of recipes for many of our favourite foods and drinks, it is a book we come back to time and again.

Just after we moved to our house we met our neighbours Michael and Audrey Levatino, who own a farm called Ted's Last Stand, and bought their book, The Joy of Hobby Farming. As well having a book which we dip into with regularity, Michael and Audrey have been a very real help to us, with plenty of advice and a fair bit of reassurance that we are doing ok at this whole growing our own food malarky.

Given that we are starting to pick cucumbers and tomatoes from our plants, we have learnt plenty, though have plenty more to learn we're sure.