Thursday, May 29, 2014

Quest for Apple Trees

Part of my plan for our 12 acres is to grow an orchard.  When I think about the types of fruit I want to grow, the first that comes to mind are apples!  I eat an apple almost every morning, either cooked with oatmeal on cold mornings or sliced on top of waffles with yogurt for warm weather.  I also love to bake (and eat) apple pies.  Every year we go apple picking and I cook little mini pies that go into the freezer.

Picking apples in the rain in Upstate New York, fall 2013

However, when I started researching what kind of apples to grow I hit a brick wall.  Problem number one is that I don't want to use chemical sprays.  I want organic apples.  Problem number two is that I live in a hot, humid climate.  It appears that problem one and two do not combine well.

On the NPR station I listen to there is a program from Clemson University about gardening.  People call in with their gardening questions and several times I've heard questions about apple trees and the response has always been that they don't grow well in South Carolina, so don't bother trying.

But I really, really want apples!

After much Google searching, I stumbled upon another blog : Growing Days and found that I was not alone.  The blogger (oddly also named Julie) is in South Carolina as well and had heard the same Clemson University advice against apples.  However, she had met the author, Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr, of a book titled: Old Southern Apples: A Comprehensive History and Description of Varieties for Collectors, Growers, and Fruit Enthusiasts.  She was able to talk to Mr. Calhoun about her quest for an apple variety to plant and his recommendation was a Blacktwig apple.

Now I just needed to find this Blacktwig Apple.  Through more Google searches I stumbled upon Century Farm Orchards in Reidsville, NC.  They specialize in growing old Southern apples and pears that are disease resistant!  They had the Blacktwig apple available and the description makes it sound even better.  "Unparalleled fresh eating quality" and all important, "resistant to several apple diseases."   I ordered two Blacktwig apples and the owner of Century Farm Orchard has been helpful to recommend another variety for pollination, Summer Banana.  This variety also sounds delicious!

I received and planted my apple trees.  I put up a four foot fence around each one.  I learned from my pecan tree planting that deer protection is essential.  The apple trees are also somewhat close to the pond where we have very active beavers.  Hopefully my apple tree enclosures will be deer and beaver proof!

All went well with the baby apple trees until mid-spring.  Small green caterpillars began munching away at the leaves.  I managed to hand pick them off the trees and no new ones reappeared.  They have put on new leaves and will hopefully recover from the attack.  However, I am concerned about how to deal with these caterpillars in the future.  Eventually the trees will be too big for me to hand pick, so I will need another technique.  And today I noticed that the apple tree leaves have reddish orange blotches.

I have a feeling my quest for apples is just beginning!.

This post is shared at Green Thumb Thursday at Grow a Good Life.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Harvest Monday 5/26

With our Memorial Day holiday yesterday, I completely forgot it was Monday until late last night, so here's my harvest Monday on Tuesday!

More spring harvests are happening here:

I loved the color combination of the greens with the purple reds.  The purple leaves are amaranth.  I am growing amaranth for the grain, but was thinning seedlings and found that young leaves can be eaten raw as salad.  More mature leaves can be cooked like spinach.  The great thing about amaranth is that it likes warm weather, unlike spinach.  Now I need to check and see how much seed I have left because this seems like a great way to have greens (or perhaps I should call them reds) during the warmer months.

This week I picked 6.3 oz of lettuce, 0.7 oz of radish, almost a pound of onions (15.1 oz), 0.8 oz of kale, and 0.9 oz of amaranth leaves.

I made an egg scramble with onions, kale and feta and had a salad with radish and pecans.  Delicious and very spring-like.

The biggest harvest this week was peas at 2 lbs.

We love to eat fresh English peas straight from the pod.  It made for a great Memorial Day cookout appetizer along with a nice big salad from the garden.  The snow peas I have used for stir fries this week.  This week puts my total harvest for 2014 at 2.26 lbs.

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week, to see what others are harvesting check out Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Potato Beetles in the Organic Garden

Unfortunately we are not the only species that enjoy a vegetable garden.  Keeping pests under control can be challenging when you refuse to use any chemicals.  My latest nemesis is the Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata).  The adult beetles are actually kind of pretty with black and yellow stripes.

The problem is that they love to eat potato plants (they will also eat eggplant and tomato leaves).  They don't bother the tubers, but munch away at the leaves and stems which makes it difficult for the potato plants to photosynthesize and produce tubers.  They overwinter in the soil and I was hoping that our cold winter put a damper on the population, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  They lay eggs, which are yellow-orange and can be found on the underside of leaves.

The red larva, with black heads, hatch add devour the potato leaves as they grow.  When they reach maturity, they go into the soil and a few days later emerge as an adult.  The cycle repeats up to three times in the South because of our long growing season.

So what's gardener to do about these potato beetles without using pesticides?

Strategy 1:  When I saw the first larva on the plants, I sprayed them with a hot pepper spray (1 quart of water, 2 tbsp hot sauce, 3-4 drops dish soap).  I found that this took out maybe half of the larva and did not phase the adults.

Strategy 2: My next attempt was simple, but more tedious.  I took a jar of soapy water and went hunting for potato beetles, larva, and eggs.

It is really important to remove as many eggs as possible.  I have found that they tend to be on the underside of lower leaves.  I also found that eggs were laid on nearby weeds as well, which is yet another reason to keep the beds cleared of weeds.

So far this strategy seems to be working.  I check the potato plants at least once a day and pick off any adults, larva, and eggs.  While hunting for potato beetles a ran across a little baby toad.  Hopefully this little guy will help me out and eat lots of pests!  It's also a reminder of why I don't use chemicals in my garden - I'm not the only one that would be exposed to them.

The potatoes have some leaf damage, but seem to be fine and one just flowered.  Hopefully there will be a nice potato harvest in my future.

Future strategies:  Next year I plan to use a row cover over my potatoes to keep the potato beetles off the plants.  It is really important to move the potato bed to a location that did not previously have Solanaceae crops (potatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes) since the beetles overwinter in the soil.  It would be pointless to put up a row cover over the same area and have it filled with potato beetles that overwintered in the soil!

Has anyone else battled the potato beetle and found strategies that work?  If so, please share!

This post is shared at Green Thumb Thursday at Grow a Good Life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Installing a Deer Fence

One of the projects that kept me busy this spring was getting a deer fence installed around the garden.  Last year I lost most of my produce to the deer, so a fence was a priority for this year.

The fence is 61 ft x 76 ft, which gives me a 5 ft perimeter inside the garden.  The corner posts are wood:  4"x4" and 8 ft tall.  We set the corner posts in cement.  (I suggest you really pay attention and respect the time the cement says it takes to set.  We didn't and the posts definitely moved with the pressure of the fencing.)

The remaining posts are 8 ft metal T- posts that were spaced about 7 - 10 ft apart.  J attempted to use the bucket of the tractor to drive these into the ground, which worked if there were no rocks.  This is what happened if we hit a rock:

Also, I got to be the lucky one to try and hold the post straight underneath the tractor bucket.  All I could think about was getting crushed by the bucket, so I do not recommend this technique!  After we destroyed three posts, we switched to a ladder and the backside of a hatchet.  This was a lot more work, but not as scary.

After all the posts were in the ground we stretched the fencing out.  To keep costs down, I only used 4 ft fencing on the bottom and then three rows of wire cable on the top.  We used clips that came with the T-posts to attach the fencing and then hammered staples into the wooden posts.  We did the same thing for the three cables at the top.

Next was building a gate.  J built me a frame and I stapled chicken wire to it.  We then attached the hinges, handle and latch.  For hanging the gate it is helpful to put bricks on the ground to hold it to the correct height.  Finally we added two boards at the top to prevent the posts from moving and to keep the gate aligned.

Everything came from Tractor Supply or Lowe's and cost about $500.  Hopefully it will be worth it and allow me to get veggies from the garden instead of the deer!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Harvest Monday 5/19/14

My exciting new harvest for this week is peas!

The English peas haven't quite filled in yet, but some of the snow peas are ready.  I combined them with some onions and cilantro..

... and had a delicious stir fry.

Also this week I harvested some lettuce (4.6 oz) and radish (0.8 oz) for salad:

Using Google spreadsheet for my harvest tallies does automatically update (on side bar).  It is really easy to use and seems to have all the features Excel has that I need. I'm up to 0.88 lbs so far this year.  Hopefully harvests will start increasing over the next couple of weeks.  Although it's always nice to have something from the garden even if it's not very much.

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week, to see what others are harvesting check out Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Monday, May 12, 2014

First Harvest of 2014!

The first harvest has arrived!  It's not much, but the first harvest is always exciting:

It consisted of lettuce (mostly Black Seeded Simpson and Freckles Romaine; 0.9 oz), spinach (2.4 oz), a few small radishes (1 oz), and some cilantro.  The lettuce, radish and some spinach went into my first salad from the garden for 2014.  The second harvest was a single, small red onion (1.2 oz), which went with the rest of the spinach and the cilantro into an omelette.

All last week we had temperatures in the upper 80's and even hit the 90's a few days, so all my spring crops are ready to bolt.  I doubt the radishes or onions are going to get any bigger, so I probably need to pull them all.  Based on the forecast, the temperatures are going to continue to be high until Thursday.  I attempted to make a shade cloth cover using some weed cloth:

Unfortunately I came home today and the wind had picked up the weed cloth and blown it off the hoops.  I need to get some more rebar so that I can make more hoops, which will hopefully help it stay in place.  I don't know if this will prevent my spring crops from bolting, but I thought I might as well try!

In other news, I added a harvest tracking table on the side that I will attempt to keep updated.  I discovered that if you use a Google spreadsheet, it is supposed to automatically update, although it's not the prettiest table!

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week, to see what others are harvesting check out Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.