Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sunflower Sadness

Sunflowers make me happy.  Who couldn't love a sunflower?  They reach to the sky, towering over me, to greet the morning sun.  This was my first time growing sunflowers.  I was excited to watch them grow and grow and grow.  They were a wonderful backdrop to my garden.  The cucumbers escaped their bed and used the thick stalks as a trellis.  Then the drooping began.  I read-up about when to harvest the heads and patiently waited for the calyx to dry out.  One afternoon I discovered that a couple of sunflower heads that had bent to the ground were completely empty of seeds.  I'm guessing a rodent of some sort had a very nice lunch!

I decided to harvest the heads and let them finish drying in the safety of the garage. I'm sure the little rodent was disappointed in the loss of their lunch spot, but they'll find plenty of other things to eat in the garden.  I was very excited and proud of my first sunflower harvest.  Not all the heads lived up to the 'Mammoth' ideal, but I did get a few giant heads filled with plump seeds. 

Next was waiting for the heads to dry while I planned how I was going to roast and season the seeds.  A week went by and I checked on the stack of sunflowers in the garage and they were covered with mold!!  It had been raining all week and the heat had not subsided.

I was not ready to give up hope on my sunflower seed harvest yet!  I researched how to dehull the seeds, thinking that the mold was only on the outside of the shell, so that if I could get the kernels out of them they'd still be edible.  The plan: put seeds a handful at a time in the food processor, process until shells are cracked open, and then dump into water.  The kernels will sink and the shells will float.  Brilliant!  Executing the plan was not so successful.  Processing the seeds long enough to crack the shells and not pulverize the kernels was impossible.  Sadly my first sunflower harvest is not going to be successful, but the wildlife are going to enjoy them!  Lesson learned: dry sunflowers in a dry place!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday for September

I stumbled upon Clay and Limestone and wildflower Wednesdays.  I adore native wildflowers and although my efforts have been focused on my vegetable garden the past two years, I have plans for a native woodland garden and incorporating natives into my front flower bed.

My favorite wildflower this time of year doesn't have a showy flower, doesn't flower this time of year, and is actually a shrub.  However, the seed capsules and seed pods captivate me with the combination of fuchsia and orange.  Hearts-a-burstin, strawberry plant, or Euonymus americanus, whichever name you prefer (hearts-a-burstin is my personal favorite) this a colorful addition to the fall that you should get to know if you live in the southeast.  They grow in part shade and like a moist environment.  About a dozen of these shrubs have grown at the edge of the woods and are putting on a spectacular show this time of year. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Good Guys

Sometimes I hate organic gardening.  You raise baby plants from seed, watch them grow, revel in their first flowers and forming fruit only to watch your baby and harvest succumb to a pest.  The tediousness of picking bugs off plants, cutting vine borers out of squash stems at some point every year gets overwhelming.  I want to throw the spade in and give up.  And then I stumble upon one of the good guys and I am reminded of the beauty and balance of organic gardening.  
The past couple of weeks I have found three praying mantises in my garden.  I find them amazing insects.  Those big buggy eyes and triangle heads may be a face only an organic gardener can love!  Getting a glimpse of these praying mantises makes the hard work and heartbreak of organic gardening worthwhile.  I know that if I took the easy way out and drenched my plants in insecticides I would not have these cool creatures thriving in my backyard.
Definitely thriving.. this mantis is the largest I've ever seen!  They are eating well!  I'm hoping this means that come spring my garden will be overrun with baby mantis.                                                                       
Knowing they have set-up residence in my garden and are battling the bugs makes me smile.  I am not in the battle alone!  And perhaps they are smiling back at me :)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cover Crops and Weevils

I was reading this article about cover crops:  Cover Cropping Your Garden.  I have never attempted cover crops, but it seems like a great idea and an easy way to add nutrients to the soil.  I started a never ending search on what kind of cover crops to grow and got so confused that I went to my local farmer's exchange instead.

The farmer's exchange in my South Carolina town is always an interesting place.  I show up after work wearing a skirt and jacket while everyone else appears to actually be farmers.  Needless to say I stand out, so they are quick to come to help me.  A very nice old farmer thinks about my cover crop question.  He proceeds to give me a tour of the bags of seeds, mumbling about each one.  He decides that the best and most economical option is to get a mixture of winter peas, oats, and wheat (I think it is buckwheat).  He mixes all the seeds together- over a pound of seeds.  I go to pay and he says one dollar.  Did I mention he mumbled?  I was sure I heard him wrong.  Online I'd seen 1/4 lb mixes going for $5.  But no, it was really $1!  Lesson for the day- try seed shopping at your local farmer's exchange.

He also mumbled something about weevils.  I get home and put the paper back on the kitchen table and about half an hour later I notice all these little black things on the outside of the bag.  Lots and lots of weevils!!  Although for $1 I can handle some weevils and for some odd reason I think they are kind of cute.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fall Garden

It's that time of the year to clear out the spent summer crops and get ready for a fall garden.  Since I missed early spring with all the garden renovations, I am excited to get a second chance with the cool season crops.  One crop that I have always had problems with is peas.  I never get them in the ground early enough in the spring and they quickly wilt and die in the SC sun.  I'm hoping that I can have some pea success in the fall.  I may have gone overboard by planting four different varieties and at least 30 seeds of each. Stay tuned to find out if I get buried under a pile of peas!

Next up in the fall garden are the root crops.  I'm excited about the colorful carrots and beets- never had a purple carrot before!  I'm also not sure about the difference between turnips and rutabagas- they look a lot alike.  Maybe I don't need to plant both, but I guess I will find out how similar they taste.  I've never grown or even eaten kohlrabi.  It's my fall garden adventure crop!

I also planted several varieties of lettuce, kale, swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.  Radishes and garlic will be on the planting to do list in couple of weeks.  I find the hardest part about growing a fall garden is keeping the seeds from drying out.  I use vermiculite to help hold in the moisture, which also seems to help the carrot seeds to germinate.  Luckily the forecast for the week has lots of rain, although tonight the rain has been coming down for awhile.  Hoping seeds don't float away!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Garden History

My garden began in 2010 with renting a tiller, planting seeds and seedlings..

Followed by harvesting and eating :)

In spring of 2011 I decided to install raised beds, but soon became aware of the slope of my garden. Jeff thought we should level the garden and build a retaining wall. That was the beginning of the massive garden renovations:

I had to sacrificed my spring root crops as my previous garden was demolished and buried under 63 tons of dirt:

Unfortunately our wall did not withstand the weight of the dirt:

But at least Jeff had a good time with the Bobcat:

We had to adjust our plan and instead of a single retaining wall, we began a two tiered terraced garden.

After lots of work, a squished thumb nail, and a new found hatred of retaining wall bricks, my garden was built!  I had the raised beds I originally wanted, trellises, arbor, and a pretty terraced garden!

By July my garden was happily growing!