Saturday, July 26, 2008

Helping Feed Family and Friends

This weekend was the official start to canning and preserving! I spent 2 hours in the garden this morning pruning tomatoes, removing dead and moldy foliage, winnowing yellow crookneck squash leaves to let the bees in, and I harvested 3 heads of Sylvesta butterhead lettuce, 6 Red Ace Beets, 11 Olympian cucumbers, and 18 pickling cukes. When all was said and done, I processed 9.25 quarts of pickles and 1 quart of pickled beets. Not bad for 5 hours worth of work! And as I type, I'm hearing the satisfying "pop!...pop-pop!" as my ball jars seal tight.

And the bees!!! I don't ever remember so many bees! While I was out in the garden, there was a steady, loud (yes, it was loud!) buzzing hum as the bees took nectar and pollinated the very many squash, tomatillo, tomato, and cucumber flowers. I think I'll have to tell my husband we should consider an apiary. There were about a 50 bees (or more) in and amongst all my plants this morning.

I sent my kids to the neighbors house with a head of lettuce and 4 cucumbers.

I also gave my kids one peeled, sliced cucumber (5 minutes off the vine) each to snack on. There is nothing quite so charming as my kids tasting the first cukes of the season and saying "mmmmmmm mmmmmmm, thanks, Mama, for growing cucumbers!!" And I have more for dinner....and lettuce!!!!

It looks like I'll need to visit the garden every other day at this point. I have many yellow crookneck squash growing, and about a bazillion pickling cukes. Which means I need to stock up on pickling supplies...

I buy my pickling spices from Penzey's Spices. They have a great selection to choose from. For pickling, because Johnny's plants produce so voluminously, I usually buy 5 lbs of dill seed, 2 pounds of multicolored peppercorns, and a few others while I'm at it. I buy Morton's pickling salt and fresh garlic from the local supermarket.

Here's my pickling recipe, should anyone be curious (I'm told I make some pretty tasty pickles!)

For 8 quarts of pickles:

  • 7 cups water
  • 7 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 9 TBSP pickling salt (can use kosher as a sub)
  • 32 cloves of garlic
  • 2-2/3 cups of dill seed
  • 48-56 2-3" pickling cucumbers
  • 16 TBSP of black or mixed whole peppercorns
  • 2 pot holders
  • Pair of tongs
  • Soup ladle
  • Permanent black marker or Sharpie
  • Fan or a husband with a large palm leaf

I start by cutting the garlic into 1/8 inch (yes, I'm that precise) slices. I use 4 cloves per jar. Feel free to reduce or increase the amount of garlic to your taste. I think I was bottle-fed garlic by my Italian grandmother, because I like LOTS if it! This takes the longest, so it's good to get it out of the way.

Next, I sterilize my jars in roiling hot water for 15 minutes. Remove jars, and add all ingredients to the jars. Per quart jar I add: 4 cloves of sliced garlic, 2 tbsp peppercorns, and 1/3 cup dill seed.

Next, add your pickling cukes. I seem to fit 5-6 per quart jar. If you find a monster pickling cuke or two that you forgot last time you picked, cut these into spears or into hamburger slices for a bit of a twist. Wipe the top rim and the outer ridged areas of the jars with a clean cloth or sponge when you're done.

Next, combine your water, vinegar, and salt (brine) and bring it to a light boil. Keep it covered as you heat it up or you'll experience a lot of evaporation. While this mixture is heating up, add your jar lids and cap tighteners to a pot of water and bring to a boil.

If you can, have 2 other pots half-full of water and bring them to a boil.

It's probably getting hot in your kitchen with all this boiling going on. Have that fan or palm-leaf-holding husband at the ready!!

When the brine is nice and hot, ladle 5-6 scoops into your jars and bring the liquid level to just below where the cap ridges start. Give the top a quick, clean swipe with your cloth or sponge, and then using tongs, first retrieve a flat sealing lid (set it on top of the jar) and then retrieve a cap. With a pot holder on your hand, grab hold of the jar and tighten the cap as much as you can. Repeat these steps until all jars are filled.

Now add all your filled, sealed jars to the half-full pots of boiling water and "water bath" your jars for 15 minutes.

When you take them out, give the cap a firm twist and then set them aside to cool.

About 15 minutes after you set them aside to cool, give all the jar caps another firm twist.

Within an hour or so, you should hear your jars start to pop.

Finish them off by recording the day you jarred them on the lid with a permanent black marker.

I love this part of summer. It's just amazing to me, and so rewarding, to see all the fruits of my efforts, literally, appearing from all the labor I started in February with starting my seedlings. I never get tired of this yearly labor of love. And my kids appreciate the fruits, too. Hopefully, in a another year or two, I'll have them helping me! I'm considering giving them their own little 4' by 4' section of my raised beds next season so they can experiment, weed, and feel the reward of their own efforts. Next generation of gardeners, here they come!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 7/23/08

We got rain; two and a half inches but a little too fast for my taste. There was some erosion around the farm but it was minimal at best. Having cover crops in place and the fact that it was so dry helped the rain to soak in. I also held off grinding some crops we are done with until we can grind and reseed the same day.

The fence is progressing well. They finished putting the posts in last week and will start putting wire up this week. They should be all done by the end of next week. Just in time as the deer are starting to eat the pumpkins. A couple of weeks ago we had to put floating row covers on the green bean trial or we wouldn’t have anything to evaluate. Beans and peas are on the list as deer’s favorite foods.

The farm looks really good this year; the weeds are under control, insects are kept in check and crop maintenance is on schedule. The tomatoes are worth the trip out here just to see them. All of field 11 (the field behind the pond) is in breeding tomatoes this year; the trial is in field 10. The squash and pumpkin fields look good with the mulch all laid out and few weeds visible. The corn is growing by leaps and bounds and everything else looks good as well.

We sprayed galinsoga at the ends of several fields last week with Matratec AG on Thursday last week. Matratec is an organic herbicide with the active ingredient being clove oil. It is an OMRI approved herbicide that kills on contact usually within 24 hours. We sprayed one of those brutally hot days and damage was visible with a couple of hours. It’s hard to hoe or otherwise eradicate the weeds at the ends of the rows as there are water pipes, valves and drip hoses from the irrigation lines there. Spraying is quicker and more efficient on a hot day than hoeing. The best weather to use an organic herbicide is on a hot day; the weeds really take a beating then.

On the home front we’ve frozen peas, Swiss chard and beets greens. We spent the bulk of last weekend picking, shelling, cleaning and blanching them. This week we’ll put up green beans and more beet greens. They’ll sure be good in the middle of the winter! We planted Big Top beets this year and they really do have big tops; nice big and tall tops that are easy to clean and easier to grow. We’ll definitely put these in the garden next year.

Until next week, Brian.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 7/16/08

The hot and humid weather from last week is gone but the crops certainly liked the heat. The corn outside my window is tall enough that I can’t see the farm. I’m sure the crew likes that. It looks like it grew a foot in the past few days.

On the insect front the Mexican bean beetles and Japanese beetles are back. We’ll start spraying for them as well as onion thrips this week. Floating row covers have again prevented much damage from striped cucumber beetles on the cucurbits. Colorado potato beetles have been introduced to Entrust and the aphids are feeding lots and lots of ladybugs and their larvae.

Weeds are somewhat under control; the ever present galinsoga continues to challenge us. The squash and pumpkin trials and workshops have had the hay mulch placed between the rows so weeding there is complete. The isolation fields will get their final cultivation this week so we can concentrate on some other projects around the farm. Like what????

Like seeding down cover crops, picking rocks and crop maintenance of what we have planted. Lots of irrigating to do as we haven’t had any rain in a couple of weeks. Tomato trellising is always a popular activity. Thanks to Lisa Robbins for coming back solely to work on tomatoes this summer. If you haven’t seen them by all means stop by they look beautiful this year. And there’s lots of them.

Scouting for insect damage now is another popular activity here on the farm. Susan Anderson is starting an insect collection and now is a good time as we have lots of insects to collect. I saw Japanese beetles and squash bugs so far this week and am sure I’ll find more specimens. There are still some fat and sassy potato beetles that would like to spend an eternity in an alcohol filled glass jar.

Until next week, keep the bugs at bay, Brian.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hacking into the Irri-Gator

Every once in a while, my husband accidentally runs something over with the lawn mower, usually because the grass has grown so long we’ve both forgotten what might be under it. Earlier this year he got a little too close to the corner of the garden, and my Irri-Gator pressure regulator ended up under the blades. Thankfully I had a spare one. I kept the remnants of the broken one because one never knows when such things will come in handy. And handy it was!

Before I worked at Johnny’s, I purchased the Irri-Gator system from them, and in my few years of gardening I’ve enjoyed using it. I’ve laid out my garden with it in mind, so all of the rows have tubing along them and all of my plants can get enough water. It is under my black landscaping fabric, which protects it from the UV rays. Watering hasn’t yet been an issue this summer, but it is starting to get hot and we don’t always get a thunderstorm, so I’ve started using it intermittently.

One thing that I like about the Irri-Gator is that I can use my hose timer to just “set it and forget it” (to quote a certain infomercial). One thing that’s always made me wonder, though, is whether there is a way to get the Irri-Gator to distribute liquid fertilizer throughout my garden. Other watering systems offer this option – Johnny’s offers a fertilizer injection system that you can attach to a sprinkler, for example, but the low water pressure used by the Irri-Gator is incompatible with it. So that got me searching on the web. I did find a system that can be hooked into the Irri-Gator or similar systems, but I’m pinching pennies this summer (we’re buying a woodstove and chimney plus cord wood, so we can stop using oil as our sole home heating source) and the $50 plus shipping just seemed like too much for such a simple thing. So I got to thinking – there has to be a way I can fashion such a thing cheaply at home.

I did consider that all of the fertilizer might stay close to where I have the Irri-Gator connected to the hose. I can live with giant onions if that is the case, and I can always reconfigure the attachment to better accommodate other areas of the garden. Other liquids disperse pretty well in water, and I think that the fertilizer will be spread out pretty well through the garden.

A couple of Sundays ago, I wandered my local Agway for a while and found a hose end sprayer which appeared to be made up of component parts that I could separate. The one I chose has a dial on top to regulate the ratio of fertilizer-per-gallon of water that passes through, and it sucks the fertilizer into the water going through the sprayer, rather than mixing the two within the container. I purchased two, just in case I could splice parts and end up with a hose end on both sides, and I also purchased a female-to-male hose adapter, so I could hook it to the system if that worked. I hoped that I could just change some parts around, attach the fertilizer sprayer between the hose and the Irri-Gator’s pressure regulator, and go.

Fertilizer Sprayer, converted

Alas, that did not exactly work out according to plan.

The sprayer I purchased was injection molded plastic, and, while I could get it somewhat apart, the hose attachment end and the sprayer end were firmly attached as one solid piece. However, I found another way as I took it apart. The sprayer nozzle opening, behind the adjustable attachment that allows you to vary the spray, is the perfect size to connect a piece of aquarium air tubing, of which I have plenty for my fish tank. I attached that and dug through my box of Irri-Gator spare parts. I found the broken regulator, which had a male end, which could fasten to the pressure regulator, and had nothing blocking the way for water to flow through in reverse. The broken female end held snug one of the Irri-Gator’s tee connectors, but it did pop back out with little coaxing. To the air tubing I tightly taped a piece of Irri-Gator tubing (sans irrigation holes), and connected that to the other end of the tee. I blocked off the side connection on the tee, as it was unnecessary (I just didn’t have any straight connectors – a straight connector would be perfect for this application, too).

Air Tube Connection

And then I tested. Things went pretty well. I filled the sprayer vessel with TerraCycle’s worm poop liquid fertilizer, which I had left from last summer, and set the sprayer to it’s highest fertilizer:water setting. I turned on the hose and it started going. It worked – but there were a few bugs to work out.

Tee Connection

First of all, the heavy hose tipped the sprayer vessel over when I turned on the water. That was an easy fix – prop it up with some rocks. Then there were some leaks. Water was spurting out from around my tee joint to the broken regulator connection, and also coming out of the broken regulator through a small hole in its side, which probably adjusted for pressure when the regulator was whole. So back to Agway I went.

I returned the extra sprayer and adapter, and picked up a tube of silicone sealant/caulking and a roll of Gorilla Tape. After allowing my Frankenstein sprayer to dry, I caulked the tee into the broken regulator, and caulked the small hole in the regulator. I shortened the length of the Irri-Gator tubing that I’d connected to the air tubing, and re-taped that connection. I let everything dry for a couple of days and tested again.

Connection to the Irri-Gator

It worked pretty well. I adjusted the fertilizer to a lower setting but the uptake wasn’t quite as thorough – there was still quite a bit left in the vessel at the end of my test. Also, the taped connection leaked quite a bit – obviously the tape isn’t the best solution. Next I am going to try caulking that connection and see how that works. There are a few more steps to be taken to perfect my device, but I’m excited – my theory worked, and so far it’s only cost me about $15 plus some old spare parts. And I can forgive my husband for running over the Irri-Gator with the lawn mower.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What's New At The Farm, 7/09/08

We’re busy; that’s for sure!

The pollination crew started last week and the fence crew starts this week. The weeds, insects and diseases are upon us along with what could be a shortage of water if we don’t get some rain soon. Actually we’ve done very little irrigating so far this season, some in May but little since then.

We’ll hook up the irrigation system and get some water out there this week. Unfortunately we have received no moisture this week so will start pumping some water Thursday this week.

The last two weeks we’ve spent trimming trees and cutting bushes around the farm where the fence is going to go. It had been at least six years since it has been done and the trees and bushes had grown in quite a bit. It’s also a lot more work than it used to be, or perhaps I am older than I was once. Either way I’m glad we left it to the time of year that’s warm. Too warm really.

We borrowed a straw spreader from a local farmer this week to spread mulch hay between the rows of squash and pumpkins in the breeding workshops. After many years of weeding all kinds of different ways, we have settled on spreading mulch hay between the beds. This has several advantages besides controlling the weeds. It keeps the soil moist and keeps the fruits up off the ground. It also adds some organic matter to the soil.

We used the mulch spreader on Wednesday this week, and although it’s not quite what I had in mind, it does speed up the task of spreading mulch. What took us a week last year will take us two days this year. Works for me; I’m sure we can find something else to fill our time.

Until next week, enjoy the weather.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Images from the farm

Cultivating Radishes

Pruning Tomatoes

Removing row covers

Removing another row cover from squash plants

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Photo from one of Johnny's Customers, Westridge Produce

We love our customers.

We especially love it when our customers send us great pictures of the products that they grow from Johnny's Selected Seeds.

One of our customers, Westridge Produce from Blue River, Wisconsin, recently sent in a photo of their daughter, Autumn Rose (4), holding a huge head of lettuce that Johnny's sells called "New Red Fire". This head of lettuce looks almost as big as Autumn! Mom and Dad (Kimberly and Jake Jakubowski) must be very proud!

Westridge Produce, located in southwestern Wisconsin, farms intensively and organically on 1 acre. Per Kimberly, they sell their produce at local farmers markets and co-ops. Kimberly reports that this is their 3rd year of doing the garden full time and she gives all the credit to her husband of 10 years, Jake (they are celebrating their 10th anniversary in August - congratulations Kim and Jake!). They have a small hoop house that they use to start their seeds in and they hope to get a greenhouse this fall and try some greenhouse tomato varieties. Good thing Johnny's has them!

Autumn Rose also has a little brother, James, who is 16 months old.

Thank you, Jakubowski Family, for sending in the terrific picture and for sharing with us. We at Johnny's wish you the best growing season yet - and when you get pictures of those greenhouse tomatoes, be sure to send them in!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What's New At the Farm 7/02/2008

At least we’re not irrigating!

With three inches of rain last week we won’t need to irrigate for a while. That’s the good part; now for the bad part: the weeds keep on growing and diseases run rampant now what with the humid clammy weather. You can cultivate all you want; it doesn’t amount to much. The weeds take root wherever you move them to; it’s kind of like transplanting them. Killing weeds is much easier when the sun is shining. They shrivel up and die right before your eyes.

I’m not going to talk about weeds this week, any more than I already have. Instead I’m going to switch to insect pests; aphids in particular. Aphids are known to gardeners and farmers everywhere and are usually kept in check by natural predators. Usually chemical control is only necessitated when the population gets out of control.

By far the most interesting info about them is their life cycle. They begin as eggs laid the previous fall which hatch out as soon as the weather warms, or as soon as the greenhouse gets heated which may be the case. The first generation consists entirely of females which give birth to live young which also starts feedi immediately. As the population increases, winged aphids make up a generation which flies off looking for new feeding grounds. Rapid population explosions are common in the aphid world. They say if all the descendants from a single aphid lived for a summer there would be over 5 billion of them.

As the summer wears on and the food is becoming limited and the temperatures are cooling, a generation consisting of both males and females appear. They mate, lay eggs and die setting the stage for the next season. Aphids will over winter in a greenhouse; opening the sides or otherwise providing cold air circulation will help kill them off.

Aphids pierce the plant stems and leaves and suck the juices out. Because of their high population; a single leaf can have over 100 aphids, the effect of their feeding is both noticeable and devastating As soon as they feed on a leaf it will curl and provide a safe haven for aphids as it is hard to get a pesticide into the curled leaf area. As they move from leaf to leaf and from plant to plant they spread diseases between plants. As there are literally thousands of aphids diseases spread quickly throughout the field.

Control is easier said than done. Because there are many generations per year, they quickly build up resistance to pesticides. When a pesticide is used it kills most of the insects; the ones that aren’t killed have some resistance. Their offspring will typically have some degree of resistance to the pesticide when their born/hatched. Aphids have so many generations per year they can really build up resistance fast. Where Pyganic worked earlier in the season nothing seems to work really well now.

Susie has released lady beetles and lace wings to gain some control. She sprayed last week with Neem oil before the beneficials were released. The Neem oil seemed to work pretty good, but it rains as soon as we spray – best way to get it to rain is to spray.

Until next week, Brian

Video from the Farm

Treating cucurbits with Surround, Entrust, and Golden Pest Spray Oil

July already!

Wow, I can't believe it's July already! I've got almost everything planted in the garden, and my beans, squash, and corn are looking good. I do have a flat of lettuce and a flat of leeks waiting for me, but that's it. I got the peppers in (hot and sweet, several varieties of each), and my 45 tomato plants are thriving as much as they can considering that we've been averaging 3 thunderstorms per week lately, complete with downpours. Rain is good for the garden, but an inch in a few minutes can take its toll. Lots of my plants have holes in their bottom leaves from the violent splashback. I haven't noticed any hail but it's not impossible that we had it.

Last week I was in the grocery store when a thunderstorm rolled through. It rained very hard for about half an hour, and when I got out my car was in an eight-inch deep puddle. I had to wade to it - luckily my pants were easy to roll up, and I was wearing waterproof sandals. Here is a (cell phone) picture of the maelstrom at the drain in the parking lot.

Parking lot maelstrom

We're sure not lacking for rain this summer!

Last Saturday it was barely misting, so I went to a local strawberry farm and picked 25 pounds of berries. Many went into the freezer, but some will be used for strawberry shortcake, and I'm also going to make some nice strawberry jam. It is a good feeling to have lots of strawberries put away for the winter, and having a taste of summer in February is very pleasant indeed.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful Fourth!! I think I'll be buying my peas this year, since things are behind in my own garden. Thankfully there are lots of farms in central Maine, so I'll just take advantage of what they've grown.