Bill, I think your idea of a garden “learning cooperative” is brilliant. Now, that’s learning! Nothing works better than getting out in gardens. Are you using a book to go along with your discussions and observations? When the weather gets bad, it might make a good option. I like Wendy Johnson’s Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate, and wish I could use it in academic classes. That’s another advantage to informal learning.
Meanwhile, the food safety bill passed last week as a rider to the federal budget extension. There was much angst in some quarters over potential impacts on small organic growers and even backyard gardeners. My reading is that there’s not much threat, especially with an amendment exempting small growers that the North Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (NCFS) worked very hard to have included. NCFS is our statewide network of organic growers, been around for a long time, good group. North Carolina has one Republican senator and one Democratic senator, and we got both on board and working together. (See, gardens bring folks together, right?) So, we’re generally happy here, or maybe relieved is a better word—if only because it could have been much worse. Relative happiness, like a couple nice squash before the borers hit. But I’ll take it. —Don Boekelheide, Charlotte, North Carolina
Leslie, your seedlings look so neat and organized! Maybe mine will be a little more orderly next year, too. I’ve purchased a hoop bender from Johnny’s. This is the big one, designed to bend the tubing from cyclone fence. Two 10-foot pieces bend together to make a 12-foot-wide arch covered with 20-foot-wide plastic. Hopefully we’ll get it up fairly early in January. I’m going to start with 20 feet long. This will give me about three times the floor space of the ramshackle hoop house I’ve been using for years and probably five times the usable space. I’ll let you know how it goes.
With inspiration from the Test Gardeners who are educators, I’ve begun an education project myself. An old friend and I have started a loosely organized group of interested backyard gardeners. Some are customers of my CSA farm, plus some others. Few have much gardening experience, but a lot of interest. We’ve met twice so far, about 8 people each time but probably 12 different folks altogether.
First meeting was at my friend Brent’s back yard where he does veggies in a few nooks around a nicely landscaped yard with swimming pool. Second one was a walkabout at my 2-acre garden. So we’ve shown them large and tiny so far and talked about what we call “cool-weather veggies” here. Next month we’ll see if any of them have actually started their winter gardens. Actually, I think it’s cool that we’ve begun in winter. There are plenty of tomato/cucumber/zucchini growers here, but not many folks do the winter garden.
Just where this will lead I don’t know, but I think we’re providing people some help and encouragement. —Bill Nunes, Gustine, California
I got all the leaves raked and the test beds cleaned out just before the rains started. Last week we were visited by “The Pineapple Express,” a rain cloud stretching from Hawaii through the southwest. Most of you have snow—I am so jealous.
I moved some of my newly planted seedlings out of the greenhouse to enjoy these many drizzly days (above). I expect to start transplanting most of them in a couple of weeks. As soon a the rain stops, I’ll finish putting the pea seedlings into the rooftop garden on my chicken coop and in this narrow bed in front of the guesthouse. The other seedlings will go into my new front-yard garden.
Four of my 10 backyard test beds are now planted to overflowing with ‘Inchellium Red’ garlic and I hope to be a source for local seed garlic next year. It grows huge here in my climate and soil, and I couldn’t control myself—I just had to take the plunge into garlic. It also repels vampires. —Leslie Doyle, Las Vegas, Nevada
Bill’s comments below prompt me to report on my experience with the squash ‘Kumi Kumi’. I found it great for stuffing—I used rice, tomato sauce (homegrown and homemade, of course), spices, sausage, and I don’t remember what else. Not only does ‘Kumi Kumi’ have great flavor to compliment the stuffing, but its hard shell made the perfect bowl for it. But it is very hard to cut open—much easier when I got my rubber mallet into the act. Then I steamed the cut-open Kumi about 20 minutes, mashed the squash in the shell, stuffed it, and baked it until hot through. It’s been quite a hit. It also seems to get more orange as it sits awhile after harvest.
I’m also experimenting to see if the hard shell helps it maintain eating quality after freezes. I left mine on the porch during temps down in the teens and it’s holding up!
I’ve never gone much for pumpkins solely for decoration—no surprise to those who know I haven’t much patience for flowers. But I do appreciate FOOD that is pretty, and the ‘Kumi Kumi’ squash we trialed this year (below) fits my criteria. It’s a beautiful ribbed flattish pumpkin. I suppose I’ll eventually eat it, but for now it’s lovely to look at. I do like to use seasonal produce as table or outdoor decorations. I just like to make sure I eat them before they go bad.
Our average first frost date is nominally November 4. We were about two weeks later than that this year. Still haven’t made it below 30F as far as I know, although the east side of the valley probably has. We had a series of storms right about the time we hit freezing that brought 1″ of rain, depending on exact location. Then some beautiful end-of-November days that had me out in the garden in a T-shirt. About 1/2″ of rain last week kept me from having to water anything and the winter veggies are all happy as can be.
My season for lettuce is just ramping up right now. I’ve been harvesting one bed of cutting lettuce for a few weeks. There are tried-and-true varieties ‘Red Salad Bowl’ and ‘Tango’. Plus ‘Kweik’, which I haven’t decided if I will harvest for a salad mix or allow to grow for heads (or both). The bed of Organic Gardening test varieties is a bit behind, and I’ve just started cutting them this week.