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August 17th, 2011

Diligent Squash Bug Patrol

Squash bugs. I hate ‘em. I’m not sure what purpose they serve in the world. All I know is that they’ve made a mess of my squash plants this year. They didn’t really appear in full force until a few weeks ago, so we were able to enjoy lots of zucchini in June and July.

But then I noticed the egg clusters on the underside of some pumpkin leaves. I squished them, but obviously I didn’t get them all. I began seeing those horrid little grayish white nymphs on some of my other plants too. And now they are engaged in a full assault on my butternut squash.

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The best way to control squash bugs is to squish them. But you have to be diligent about it. You must let looking for and squishing eggs, nymphs, and adult squash bugs become an everyday ritual. Skip a day and they will win.

I am currently trying to save the butternuts that are growing on the trellis I made for my peas (but which has since become home to tomato plants, cucumbers, sunflowers and squash). Having the plants up in the air makes it a lot easier to get in there to find the bugs—I’m not as old as I hope to one day be, but I can definitely feel my nearly four decades in my muscles and joints after working in the garden, so having the plants up at a workable level is great—just one of the many benefits of vertical gardening, but I digress.

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Squash bugs are terrible. They suck the sap—and the life—right out of your plants, especially seedlings and flowering plants. I’ll say it again: you have to be diligent about patrolling your squash plants. Don’t give up.

I almost forgot how much I love butternut squash until I saw a plump fruit forming on the vine. Then I remembered the soup that I make with butternut squash, cannellini beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds. I promise to post the recipe and photos when I make it again this fall. It is this love of food that keeps me fighting the good fight against squash bugs.

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August 16th, 2011

Late Season Potato Rally

I had given up on my potatoes. The weather had been so hot and so dry that they looked utterly defeated—all yellow and sad. There were a few good tubers here and there, but it seemed like the crop was generally small. Some of the bigger taters were rotten in the middle when I cut into them. If it hadn’t been for the past two rainy weekends, I would have had them all pulled out by now.

But looking at them this morning in the morning light, I discovered something encouraging and positive there in my straw-mulched potato patch: New growth. Green growth. Happy plants. Good looking plants. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a decent crop after all.

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My favorite way to cook fresh potatoes these days in on the grill. After I wash them, I cut them up sort of into thick fries. I’ll cut a medium tater in half and then cut the halves longways into four or five wedges. I’ll put these in an aluminum baking pan with some organic canola oil, salt and pepper, and some chopped up onions and garlic. And of course, my special secret ingredient: Old Bay seasoning.

I put the pan on the top shelf of my gas grill and let them cook up for maybe 10 minutes with the lid closed, then I’ll sort of shoogie them around with a spatula and let them go for another ten minutes or so. They get crispy on the outside, maybe a little brown, and a little mushy on the inside.  They go great with a burger made from grass-fed beef from the local biodynamic farm (thanks Seven Stars!) and a glass of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The perfect summer time meal.

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August 15th, 2011

Goodbye Real World, Hello Dream World

I almost had another real world gardener kind of weekend. But this time I was able to get a little done. I ripped out the first round of corn and raked out the bed. I think this is where I’ll put the fall beans.

We enjoyed fresh sweet corn nearly every night for a week and a half. I have two more patches of corn coming in now. One is popcorn and the other is another sweet corn. This has been my best year for corn.

On Sunday, while it was raining, my whole family took a nap. Our toddler was sleeping in her crib. My wife fell asleep in bed after she put our newborn down for a nap in the bassinet, and I fell asleep on the couch downstairs. I awoke to a very clear vision of next year’s garden. I dream a garden.

Also, this will most likely be my last blog post as the Real World Gardener. I will be changing the name of this here blog. As a courtesy to a radio host in Australia who’s been using the name for a while, I will rethink, rename and regroup. It’s sort of a hassle, but why cling to anything, right? Gardening is all about learning and moving on, and trying new things. So is garden blogging.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for a new blog name.

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This is where the corn was and where the beans will be.

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Popcorn with a little border of buckwheat.

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I made the mistake of planting morning glories 6 years ago. They keep coming up and i keep pulling them out.

What are you growing this fall?

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August 8th, 2011

Harvesting Garlic!

I had one of those Real World Gardening weekends, by which I mean I got absolutely nothing done in the garden. Sure, I harvested a few tomatoes and dug a couple of potatoes, but the real world took precedence over my wish list of things to do.

What did I do that was so great that I couldn’t plant a fall crop of Kale? It’s sort of a long story, so I’ll just blame it on the rain. You see, I play in a band called Tin Bird Choir (yes, I’m that much of a geek that I named the band after a Wendell Berry book, A Timbered Choir). So we had this gig at a festival and were supposed to play from 3:30 to 4:15. I figured I’d be home by 6:30, have a nice dinner with my wife and kids, and all would be right with the world.

But the rain pushed everything back three hours. I didn’t get home until 9:30, by which time my beautiful children were already in bed and sound asleep. So I feel like I got ripped off.

But you’re not here to hear me complain about my weekend. No, you’re here to see pictures of the garlic I harvested a few weeks ago. I tied them together and have them hanging on my porch.

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According to our Garlic Growing Guide, you should cure garlic bulbs by hanging them for about four to six weeks in a shaded, dry, and preferably drafty area. Did you grow any garlic this year?

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August 1st, 2011

Navigating the transitional time in the garden

I’m in a transition. My bush beans are about done—I pulled them out on Saturday morning. There are just a few ears of corn left in the corn patch. My potatoes are dying back, so it’s time to harvest them. My zucchinis were huge, but have since withered and died. I harvested the garlic, and most of the onions have been dug up and put to good use. The peas are long gone.

What does this all mean to me? A few things….

First, it reminds me how fast time goes by these days, how fleeting a summer can be, how if you blink you might just miss the season completely. I remember how summers used to last forever, how a day was so long, how a week down at the shore as a kid was nearly a lifetime in and of itself. I’m sure it’s just a function of growing older and the general relativity of time. A year is a seventh of your life when you’re seven. But when you’re 38, a week at the shore is hardly any time at all. I guess that’s why it’s so important to live in the present moment—to be in the now. Let me coin a phrase: To be in the Now is to be in the Know.

(Yes, I tend to get a little philosophical here on my blog)

This transitional period of my garden also means that there’s a whole lot of real estate coming up for grabs soon, and I need to be on the ball in order to get my fall crops in the ground in time. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Kale, more beans, more kale, more peas, maybe some more zucchini, I have a packet of quinoa seeds, spinach, more kale. I might even try a late crop of potatoes, but that’s more of an experiment. I’ll let you know what happens.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the steady onslaught of tomatoes. My family’s favorite thing to eat is tomato salad: tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil, salt, and lots of olive oil. Some good crusty bread, and maybe a little fresh mozzarella if you have it. So good.

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I wish I could train my dog, Chester,  to sniff out garden pests. Maybe someday.

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