Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Distraction from the Heat

So everyone knows that we’re in the midst of a heat wave.  We’re awakened in the morning by the radio announcer stating the current time, while simultaneously  telling us to expect temps  near 100 before the day is over.    A glance at the window reveals condensation, the tell-tale sign of high humidity which we all know makes the temperature even more unbearable.  While I can’t change the weather,  I hope to distract you by sharing images  shot in the past week of plants and insects that are thriving.   Some were made at the WildWest Community Garden at the Wildwood YMCA.  The remaining images were shot at our home, with the exception of the “wall of water” which is featured below.

Images copyrighted by Dancing Woman Designs

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Watching the bees and butterflies busy at work insuring that our plants are pollinated made me realize that  we are blessed on many levels.  We are blessed to have nature working hard to produce fruit and seed so that we may eat.  Beyond being grateful for the activities of bees, butterflies, birds,bats,  and other pollinators, I’m reminded of other aspects of life that we often fail to fully appreciate.   Here’s a short list of what our current weather reminds me that I’m thankful for:

Farmers and all who work without air conditioning 

First and foremost on my short list of things to be thankful for during our “excessive heat wave” are farmers and the many other workers who toil outside in the weather, regardless of the temperature.  The produce we enjoy from local growers  like that offered at Ellisville Farmers Market and Wildwood Farmers Market   is possible because lots of people work in spite of the muggy hot days.  You know, those days when it seems the air is so thick and so still that a spoon could stand upright on its own, given an opportunity.   I have 3 community garden plots and some plants on our deck that I confess I have chosen to ignore on more than one day because it is too hot or I have something else I’d rather do.  I don’t think the people who chose farming as a way of life have that choice.  Where would we all be if someone didn’t accept the challenge and endure the heat?  I have loved gardening for years, but when I started trying to grow vegetables this year, I quickly realized that what I really love is gardening in the shade.  If you think about it, you know how incompatible shade gardening is with raising vegetables.  So if you’re sun averse as I am, you can vegetable garden at dusk or dawn, but the challenge is to figure out how to get everything done within those narrow windows of time.

Air conditioning

I grew up in Texas without A/C until I was  almost an adult.  We didn’t have it in our homes or our schools, and it was an expensive option in automobiles.   At the time, girls were required to wear dresses to school and the style  included full skirts which were supported by a petticoat.  It was unbelievably hot. Paper fans were de rigeuer, as open windows provided the only breeze.  When it’s 95 degrees or more, “breezes”  are nonexistent.  In high school one wing of the building had A/C so all the English classes were held there.  The theory was every one was required to take an English class so every student would have at least one class a day in an air conditioned room.  So I’m grateful for air conditioning and consider it a luxury although most of us have come to expect it as a necessity.

Potable and plentiful water

An interesting side development occurred while I was writing this blog.  I hoped to add some water images to elicit sensations of coolness.  I set out Wednesday evening to capture the fountains at Fountain Plaza in Ellisville.  I arrived around 8 pm, armed with my Canon Rebel XT digital camera with a Canon EFS 17-85 mm lens.  I intended to capture the water flowing down the stone walls and bubbling from the top.   I parked across the drive near the wall just south of Lifetime Fitness; put my Android phone in one pocket, my keys in the other and locked the car.  I walked across the dry grass and was thankful when I realized that there was a grassy strip in front of the fountains which would allow me to shoot without worrying too much about cars coming and going on the drive.  I shot two images and realized that I needed to change my angle to better frame the water bubbling from the top.  I took one step onto the foot wide ledge that sets slightly off the ground.  I instantly started sliding wildly.  My first thought was, oh well, I’m going to get my feet wet.  The next thing I know, I’m falling backwards into the narrow trough between the wall and the ledge.  As I had my camera in my right hand, I reached frantically for the sky, hoping to keep it out of the water.  The last thing I remember  as I slipped completely beneath the water’s surface was tossing the camera as far as I could onto the grass.  I hit my head on the wall, but thankfully not hard enough to lose consciousness.  It took me a few seconds to right myself as the bottom of the trough was also slick.   My first concern was for my camera; I had completely forgotten about my smart phone in my pocket.  I dragged myself out of the fountain which I swear is nearly four feet deep.  Guess I’ll have to go measure it just so I’ll know. I found a canvas shopping bag in my car and dried the water spots from the camera and realized that it was still powered on and seemed to be functioning.  With my vision impaired by dripping eyeglasses, I tried to evaluate the  condition of the lens.  I tried turning the zoom barrel and  concluded that I had separated it from the main lens body.  Not good.  That’s when I remembered my phone, still in my left pocket.  I pulled it out and realized there was water under the screen.  I kept remembering the time I dropped a cell phone into a glass of water and was able to save the phone by drying it with compressed air.  I covered the driver’s seat with another cloth shopping bag, loaded my soggy self and my phone and camera into the car.  When I arrived home,  my son said that I looked like a drowned rat.  I’m afraid that was a pretty accurate description.    I tried drying the phone with compressed air and got most of the water out, but it is a loss.

While I felt much cooler after my dip in the fountain, I don’t recommend it.   Public pools in Ballwin or Ellisville would be a lot more fun.  Ballwin has the outdoor pool at North Pointe and an indoor pool at The Pointe, while Ellisville has The Edge Aquatic Center in Bluebird Park.  Just remember to put your electronics safely away first.

While at the Ellisville Farmers Market on Thursday, I was reminded again to be thankful for water.  George Sackett made the rounds with pitchers of iced water, making sure that everyone stayed hydrated.  I stayed a couple of hours, visiting with friends.  When I came home you can bet I was grateful for a cool shower.  I washed a couple of loads of laundry today.  I have to confess, I didn’t think anything about the water used to do that.  It’s amazing how easy it is to take clean and plentiful water for granted. We just turn the faucet, and clean water magically appears.   As Ben Franklin wrote in 1746, in Poor Richards Almanack, ” When the Well’s dry, we know the Worth of Water.”  With drought stricken states all around, parts of the U. S. are getting a hint of what it’s like in so many other countries of the world.  The University of Nebraska at Lincoln Drought Impact Report  for the last 6 months reveals that roughly 70% of the states have been impacted by drought in the past 6 months.  I’m sure you’re all familiar with George Hutchings, fondly known as The Shoe Man.  George is intimately familiar with the impact on life due to water scarcity.  George is a Ballwin resident who works tirelessly collecting shoes for the resale market,using the proceeds to pay for water drilling expeditions to places like Kenya.  If you haven’t met George, visit his website and learn about his work.   He is indeed an amazing man!

I’m sure each of you finds relief from the heat in your own way.  I’d love to hear what keeps you cool when it’s 100 degrees outside.  What are you thankful for during a heat wave?


A Beautiful Essay on Farm Life

I’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Dukes Lee, a journalist and contributing editor for The High Calling.  Jennifer lives in Iowa on a century farm and also blogs at Getting Down with Jesus.  She is the niece of my friend, Jackie, who hails from Iowa but has  lived in Texas for many years.   Jackie and I  met and became friends through our church in Allen, a suburb north of Dallas.  Her small town roots are deep.  Growing up on a farm shaped her into a woman with strong character, resolve and determination, and resulted in a woman worthy of admiration.   It’s been my observation that a high percentage of the folks I admire share deep roots that were often formed through rural community and  family farming.  I originally read the essay on Jackie’s Facebook page, when she proudly shared it with her friends.  In her essay, On the Seat of a Tractor,  Jennifer speaks movingly about the connections between her family and the land.

On the Seat of a Tractor

Jennifer writes about the sense of purpose and the connection to God that her family feels through farming.  I hope you take the time to click on the link to the essay and reflect on the emotions that are evoked.   If you read through the comments following the essay you find several that acknowledge that farm life is not always idyllic –  the bone tiring work and the years when the harvests were meager, the weather cruel, and the bills stacked high are recognized.  What I sense is that in spite of these frequent disappointments and hurdles, families who choose this way of life find their rewards in simple pleasures.  They seem to feel connected and strengthened through the richly detailed and colorful tapestry created as each person’s thread is woven into an intricate record of birth, death, spring planting,  fall harvests, winter cold, summer heat, feast, famine.   This interweaving  binds together those who came before and those yet to come.  Feeling closer to God through this way of life seems to be a common denominator that enables the farmer to face tribulation and find satisfaction in being a part of this cycle – “emptying and filling” (L. L. Burkat, see comments).

I have little first hand knowledge of farming.  My only experience occurred over a 3 year period after my widowed mother remarried a recently widowed life long friend.  My step father owned a 400 acre ranch in Oklahoma where he raised a 100 head of cattle.  My step father and my mother  were able to move the cattle from one pasture to another and perform most of the chores even though they were both in their 70’s.  Sometimes they called on the assistance of his daughter’s family who lived nearby.  We lived an hour away but my son and I spent some weekends and some summer days helping with basic chores like fence mending, hauling feed, and cattle round ups.  It was an experience that we relished.  It was a great proving ground for my son who was eleven when my mom remarried and fourteen when my step father died.    Those three years definitely deepened my sense of respect for the  people who choose this life.   If your way of life is inextricably tied to the land, I’d love to hear your reaction to Jennifer’s essay.  And if you have no first hand knowledge of farming,  how did you feel about her words?

Excerpts from some of the comments following Jennifer’s essay that particularly spoke to me:

“Sometimes, the sunsets of our lives are really just opportunities for the sun to rise on a new day.”

“I enjoyed the details of a farm life, both external and internal. God beautifully weaves meaning in all our lives.

All too often, I’ve felt that for something to have real purpose, it had to have the GOD label slapped on it. But I’m finding more and more, that all of our work can be worship really — even our secular work. It can all be holy and sacred, right? It’s that whole AVODAH thing that you’ve written about, Marcus. Ann Voskamp, too, has written about it. I’m in awe of that word, Avodah (a Hebrew word that means both work and worship.)

If we live an Avodah life, it all has purpose. All of it.

Really, really moving story — about the power of love and legacy and God’s good grace.

oh, jen, what a beautiful story. it does sound idyllic, i know it’s not always easy. but what a blessing to have such a family–one that works together this way, one that talks so openly. yes, what hand-me-downs your girls will have; rich stories to grow deep roots. i am in awe of such a thing. thank you for this blessing.”

Yet another cooler full

7-6-11 Cooler packed with greens, beets, carrots

In between rainy weather and other commitments, I hadn’t been to the church gardens in about a week.  Yesterday I finally managed to get by there and filled a cooler, again, with broccoli greens, kale, chard, carrots and beets.  I also had a basket of onions and shallots.

7-6-11 church garden, north bed

I decided it was time to pull up the broccoli plants.  I started these plants from seed in early March.  There were 3 broccoli plants remaining with tiny broccoli heads.  These were heirloom varieties – Waltham and diCicco.  The Waltham variety did better and now I read on the Victory Seeds site: “Bred to withstand the increasing cold of fall. Don’t use this variety for spring planting. Best for late summer or fall harvests. Compact plants with large crops of side shoots and solid medium green heads. Can survive dry spells. “  Obviously I missed something when I selected this plant to start from seed back in March.

7-6-11 Broccoli Waltham before harvesting greens

Sounds like I should try the Waltham again.  I definitely didn’t get the harvest they suggest is possible, but that isn’t surprising since they are advertised to be better fall transplants.  They were also planted late, even for a spring season broccoli.  Oh the many things to learn.  Now I see why they suggest new veggie gardeners start out slow with just a couple of species.

A few weeks ago, I picked about 15 cabbage worms off the 2 plants in the north bed.  Other than that, I didn’t really have a pest problem with the broccoli.  In any case, what remains after digging up the plants  is a huge bowl of broccoli greens to cook.

7-6-11 Huge bowl of broccoli greens and small flowerets

The other variety of broccoli that I started from seed was broccoli di Cicco.  This variety is described by  Abundant Life Seeds as: “50-70 days. We consider this one of the finest tasting broccoli around. Vigorous plants produce heavy crops of 3-4 inch wide, blue-green, central heads. Naturally staggered maturity and good side-shoot production make Di Ciccio an excellent choice for extended harvests. An Italian heirloom from 1890.”  I don’t think I harvested any broccoli heads off the 3 di Cicco plants.  At least I didn’t get enough to ever serve broccoli as a side dish.

On the other hand, I have been amazed by the quantity and quality of Swiss chard from the Bonnie Brae transplants I planted.  I think there are 4 plants and I have had 8 bunches so far, with the first one cut April 30.  It’s such a beautiful leaf – I think it would be beautiful  in a vase – the stems are truly a rainbow of colors.

I have also been pleased with the Red Russian Kale I planted.  The leaves are sturdy and haven’t really been bothered much by pests.

7-6-11 Kale and Chard

I’m also getting quite a few onions, though most are small.  That is partially due to the fact that I planted them on 2″ centers, expecting to thin them by using every other one as a green onion.  The act of pulling every other one soon became a game akin to the triangular peg board game that occupies your time while waiting in a Cracker Barrel restaurant.  It was complicated by the fact that I planted my onions in one foot squares, 16 per square.  When I harvested the first onion in a square, it might be next to as many as 4 other onions that were growing at the same rate, while the onion in the “every other” position was already twice the size.  And there were those days when I really didn’t need green onions.  Next season, I think I’ll plant the onions in a 4′ row across the bed rather than in squares.

7-6-11 Mixture of onions and shallots harvested

Most of the shallots are small, but since the tops have flopped over and they are appearing above the soil, I’m assuming it’s time to dig them.  The shallot experience started off badly; I ordered the sets from an online source.  There was a black powder on most.  I researched it online but couldn’t come up with a definitive answer.  I planted them in spite of the black powder, worrying that I was spreading disease to the onions too.   Other than being small, the shallots seemed to be free of the powder now.  The other question that came up is whether you separate the cloves from the root when you dry them?  I decided to separate them but I’ll try to research what is the correct approach before I plant and harvest shallots again.

7-6-11 Early Wonder Beets

Of course I didn’t/couldn’t thin the beets enough so I won’t have many to harvest.  I planted Early Wonder beet seeds April 7, so the ones I pulled yesterday had been in the ground for 90 days.  There are about as many left in the ground as I harvested yesterday; we’ll see if they actually make beets.  According to the seed package and the website, I should have already harvested them.  Looks like I’ll be planting the remaining seeds in the fall for a late harvest.

7-6-11 Dragon carrots

My Dragon carrots haven’t reached the sizes suggested as typical.  That’s probably because I have the same problem with the carrots that I had with the beets.  I struggle with the idea of thinning.  At least with the beets, you can eat the greens of the thinned plant.  I actually looked into whether the carrot greens were edible; the information is polarized:  some sites say so what if they’re bitter; horses and rabbits love them, why shouldn’t we eat them.  Then there’s the side that warns that they are toxic, containing alkaloids.   However, you can find plenty of web sites with recipes for the greens and opinions that lots of foods are bitter and contain alkaloids.   I’m left with no conclusive evidence so, for now,  I’m skipping the carrot greens.  I’ll offer them to the rabbits and hope they’ll accept them in lieu of my flower buds.

I spent about 2 hours at the two gardens, then probably three hours washing, photographing, chopping and cooking.  I was sloshing in water by the time I rinsed all the greens and tried to find counter space and bowls to hold it all.  I sauteed several onions, some red pepper, a small pepper from the garden, and then added all the chard and beet greens.  I mostly followed the recipe for chard with raisins and almonds from my recipe link, although I left out the almonds.  The smoked sweet paprika seems to make a big difference.  I roasted the beets while the chard was cooking.   I thawed a package of split chicken breasts that were taking up too much freezer space.  I remembered them  in the midst of the kitchen chaos, so they went into a pot to simmer after I finished the chard.  When I emptied a bag of wheat berries in to the new lidded jar I bought, I was left with about 1/2 cup in the bag.  I decided why not, let’s simmer 1/2 cup of red winter wheat berries with 1/2 cup rye berries.  I pulled out the Whole Foods Basics  pamphlet that is free in the serve yourself section of grains, beans, nuts, etc.  It’s nice to know the  information is available on line at the above link, although I notice some differences in whether to soak and the cooking times.  I did discover 3 cups of water wasn’t enough for simmering 1 1/2 hours.  I happened to check on the pan and discover that it was out of liquid.  The directions didn’t say whether to cover the pan so I didn’t; perhaps that’s the difference.  I added about one cup additional water and simmered for a total of about 2 hours.  Now I have a quick breakfast with the addition of a few frozen blueberries, some milk, a spoon of brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  I’ll probably freeze a cup or two for adding to salads or soups.

Thomas Jefferson would turn over in his grave. . .

Friday, July 1,  I was listening to Science Friday on NPR.  The featured story was about Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Fathers and their gardens/farms.    The interview was titled Growing A Revolution: America’s Founding Fathers.  “Monticello garden director Peter Hatch and historian Andrea Wulf discuss how Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison helped create the uniquely American garden”.   Peter Hatch notes that Jefferson believed that the United States would be an agrarian republic.  I wonder what Jefferson and the Founding Fathers would think if they knew that the US Census no longer lists farming as an occupation? Instead, farmers are included in the catch all “other” category.  Last week I watched the documentary Ingredients.  In the film it was stated that less than 1% of Americans now farm.  I think Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Founding Fathers would turn over in their graves if they knew how far Americans have moved  from tending the soil.  Simply put by M. Gandhi, “To forget how to dig the Earth and to tend the Soil is to forget ourselves.”

NPR host Ira Flatow asks the question  “Where do you see the Founding Fathers – in battle, around a table signing the Declaration of Independence, or sowing seeds?”  I suppose many of us think more about Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison involved in politics and government than we  think of them as  intimately involved in nature and gardening.  I know I never really thought much about them as gardeners or how nature affected their attitudes.  At the time America declared independence, these leaders recognized the importance of  agriculture  to a successful economy and to the young nation’s identity.

Hatch, Garden Director of Monticello points out that Jefferson maintained a journal of his garden plantings, called  The Garden Book.   The word “failed” appears frequently in his writings; he was an experimenter – he documented the planting of some 89 different species, 330 varieties of vegetables, ranging from sesame to okra.  He also grew 170 varieties of fruit.   Jefferson wrote: ” In gardening the failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another.”  Hatch says “If Jefferson could successfully grow a new crop, one time out of 100 he considered himself a successful horticulturist. ”  Jefferson studied meteorology and supposed that farmers clearing land might have impacted weather.  It’s amazing to me that the wisdom and experience of our Founding Fathers has been lost to most Americans through the past two centuries.  Perhaps our study of history needs to include more than politics, military actions, social issues  and economics but also the environment and agriculture.

Hatch believes that Jefferson’s legacy of gardening  is that he saw plants as a vehicle of social  change –  he supported seed saving, local foods, and farmers markets.  When Jefferson was President, he tracked the arrival and departure of37 vegetables in the farmers market and was a great supporter of that market.

Wulf reports that our Founding Fathers Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison had a shared passion for nature, plants, gardens, and agriculture that was deeply woven into and very much a part of the fabric of America.  She says that at that time, nature, gardening, and agriculture were  subjects they all agreed upon.

Wulf believes that James Madison is the forgotten father of American environmentalism.  In a speech in 1818, he  tried to convince America that if it wanted to survive as a nation it would have to stop destroying forests and stop depleting the soils of Virginia.  She says Madison believed that Man had to return to Nature what Man took from Nature.  He spoke  about the balance of nature and how easily it could be destroyed.  I’m sure both Madison and Jefferson would be appalled at our country’s lack of consideration for the balance of nature and the failure to practice sustainability in all aspects of our lives, and particularly in agriculture.

Wulf relates this story:  In the summer of 1776  as Washington faced 30,000 British troops arriving  in New York  with about half the man power, or 15,000 men.  Imposing British war ships were sailing into the harbor.  Washington sat down and wrote a letter to his estate manager instructing him to design a new garden.  He specified that it contain only  native species in order to create a uniquely American garden.   Wulf feels that at the moment America faced the almighty British army,  Washington was declaring his own independence with the design of his garden.

These are just a few stories of how passionate our Founding Fathers were about nature and agriculture.  I’m looking forward to reading Wulf’s book,  Founding Gardeners.  It’s true that while they toiled in their gardens, they relied on slave labor to provide the majority of human power.   But their involvement in the daily routines and decisions provided them an understanding of the value of agriculture and nature.  I can’t imagine any of our Founding Fathers  finding much significance in the daily routines of most Americans – running errands, shopping at the mall, watching TV, playing video games, texting.  Where in our experiences are we gaining life skills for coping with failure or understanding the mysteries of nature?

I heard a discussion on the radio the other day that resonates with me.  When we worked the land and worked with our hands, failure was tangible.  You could hold it in your hands.  In today’s society where most  jobs are service oriented or have output that is difficult to measure, failure can easily be ambiguous.  It seems that one consequence of our disconnect from physical labor is the lost opportunity to experience tangible failure. I believe that this experience is vital in developing character traits that have been synonymous with America.  Somehow we need to reconnect with  the realities and experiences of our agrarian past.  I know  folks that were raised on a farm and don’t miss it one bit.   However, while growing up taking care of crops and animals, these people learned to appreciate life’s realities and the value of hard work.  They carry determination, ingenuity and persistence into their lives beyond the farm.  Unfortunately I think that many of us and especially our children have grown up believing their efforts should produce success.  Without concrete measurements, it’s easy to discount the existence of failure.   It is difficult to understand that failure can be a learning experience and  to accept Jefferson’s statement, ” In gardening the failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another.”

If 1% of our population is working to feed us and the remaining 99% are ignorant of even basic knowledge of nature and agriculture, is that wise?  How do we encourage the other 99% to somehow weave their personal threads back into the fabric of America?  Some may believe that our country’s fabric has changed irrevocably and that there’s no need to re-integrate it into a weave from 200 years ago.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you believe that the fabric of our past was woven from agriculture and reverence for nature for good reasons, how do we  restore it?  I offer this thought.  What better place for learning the rhythms of life than in a garden? In the past ten years, I’ve seen countless children terrified of bees, afraid of rain, having no experience with an earth worm.  They frequently enter a gardening experience timidly or fearfully, but often come out with new skills and an appreciation for foods they would have never otherwise considered.   I’ve recently become involved with a community garden and have found joy in watching the reactions of children who see vegetable plants for the first time.  There is a trend towards more community gardens; that is a positive sign.  I hope those neophyte gardeners stick it out and find the challenge rewarding.

I won’t begin to claim that gardening on my deck and in community beds is synonymous with farming or animal husbandry as an occupation.  But as Karen in her Back Roads Journal so aptly said,  “People that enjoy gardening spend lots of time outdoors in all kinds of weather, be it good or bad. The work they do digging, planting, weeding and watering is a labor of love. . . Gardeners endure a trial by fire of sorts. Drought, monsoon rains, high winds, hail, assorted diseases, insects, deer, rabbits, groundhogs, etc.”  And if you, like others, accept the challenge from Mother Nature and see the garden as a continuous experiment, you are getting a sample, albeit a small one, of the joys and tribulations experienced by the small group that still remains involved in agriculture.   Yes, your involvement is on a much smaller scale than that of our local farmers.  Maybe your participation  will encourage some of our children to move towards agriculture and nature.  I think it would be a great idea  for our country to begin a Farm Corps.  Young people could serve two years as an intern on a farm or ranch.  Our government and the farmer could work out a reasonable split for payment of their stipend.  What do you think?  Would a Farm Corps be beneficial to our nation and our citizens?

I also see the light of understanding at farmers markets, in the interaction between the hard working farmer and the curious customers, many accompanied by their children.  We ask questions of our farmers – What is this? Why are there holes in the leaves? Does it matter? When will you have strawberries?  When do you plant potatoes?  Why do sweet potatoes need to cure?  How do you know when they’re ready to pick?  Why and how do you collect seeds?  All these answers were once part of the basic knowledge of most Americans.  Most arriving here as immigrants from their home countries brought precious seeds.  And everyone knew you didn’t eat the seed potatoes.

Supporting your local farmers market at least gives you an opportunity to experience sustainably grown foods and get to know the people who work to bring the food to you.  Maybe it will also encourage you to grow a vegetable or two.  Another option is to participate in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)  group by purchasing a share of a farmer’s harvest.

Hope each of you and your families have a fun filled July 4!  Spend some time to reflect on our agrarian past and what it means to our future.  Should each of us make an effort to participate more in raising our food?  Have we lost forever our agrarian connections?  Let me know your thoughts.

Cooler full of veggies

It’s been about a week since  I visited my 3 community garden beds, bringing along a cooler for the veggies I picked.  My plot at WildWest Community Garden had a few onions ready to pull, a couple of peppers and two handfuls of basil.  ( I have since learned you should never pull onions, but rather dig them in order to prevent damage to the plant).

From there I went to the church gardens and harvested a bunch of chard, kale, more onions, a couple of carrots and a couple of small stalks of broccoli.  The cooler was full so I decided I’d come back another day to cut more chard and dig more onions.  As it turned out, I kept putting off cooking the chard and eventually had to throw it out which made me feel badly.

6-27-11 Water from just a couple days of rain

I also harvested more basil from my plant on the deck that has produced the largest, most amazing leaves.  I made another 1 cup batch of pesto with these leaves.  I also picked a few tiny, grape sized tomatoes.  My son and I discovered that the tub intended for sweet potato plants and that had been empty, was bulging with water from a couple days of rain.  I took the opportunity to make a few images of the potato blossom and the potato and tomato plants in containers on the deck.  The tomato plants on the deck look much better than the ones in my plot at the WildWest Community Garden.  I really think the biggest difference is the soil.  The plants in containers are in Miracle Gro Organic gardening soil and/or potting soil.

6-27-11 12 Kibets Ukrainian and one brandywine tomato lost to blossom end rot

I also removed 13 tomatoes, 12 from the Kibets Ukrainian plant.  All suffered from blossom end rot.  Unfortunately I don’t know whether I amended the soil with crushed egg shells as I had intended.  This is supposed to supply calcium.  The day I transplanted most of the tomatoes was so hectic that I forgot the egg shells when planting some of them.  Our abundant rain could also be the cause of the rot rather than a calcium deficiency. Guess it will remain a mystery.

On the one hand, the amount of food I have harvested so far is a rather disappointing amount considering the effort involved.  On the other hand, I also realize that a lot of the work was due to the fact that 2 of the 3 gardens were built from scratch.  Since it’s my first year to garden vegetables,  I’m definitely on the steep part of the learning curve.   I do feel like I’ve learned a lot. The most important knowledge I have acquired is that  I have so much more to discover.   Lessons learned will be another post.

Onions – Short, Intermediate, and Long Day Varieties

Thin neck onions

Thin neck onions - probably "short day"

My records indicate that I planted short, intermediate, and long-day onions at the church gardens on April 2, 6, and 9.    The onions in the images were harvested on June 24.  That is 83 days to maturity,  assuming they were planted on April 2,  or 76 days if planted on April 9.   I didn’t record which variety I harvested so I can only guess whether these are short, intermediate, or long day onions.   Dixondale Farms says that short day onions planted in late spring in northern states mature around 75 days which leads me to believe that these are probably short day onions.  Of course the onions I dug aren’t necessarily at full maturity; I still don’t know enough about onions to know when to dig them.  Some I have harvested because I planted my onions on 2″ spacing, planning to harvest every other onion for green onions.  That plan didn’t exactly work out.  Some grew too big to be green onions and began crowding their neighbors.  I figured if the bulb was showing and the tops were starting to flop, I might as well dig them.

Dixondale Farms defines short, intermediate, and long day onion types as follows:

Short-Day Onions
  • Start bulbing process when day length reaches 10-12 hours
  • Mature in 110 days when planted in the south during winter or early spring
  • Mature in 75 days when planted in northern states in late spring
  • The earlier you plant them, the larger they get
Intermediate-Day Onions
  • Start bulbing process when day length reaches 12-14 hours
  • Will produce nice-sized bulbs unless you live in far south Florida or south Texas
  • Mature in 110 days when planted at the proper time
  • Exceptionally sweet
Long-Day Onions
  • Start bulbing process when day length reaches 14-16 hours
  • Do extremely well in northern states
  • Sweet, storage, and specialty long day varieties available
  • Excellent for long storage

Our weather has been crazy – windy, rainy, cold, followed by hot and then cold again, more rain, then hot again.  At least one of my onions set flower which is supposed to happen after the second season in the ground.   Apparently this onion was fooled into thinking it had been through two seasons.  I will probably have some that have suffered from growth starting and stopping due to the wild swings in temperature and soil moisture.  This can cause the bulbs to revert to making stalks.  (Mother Earth News)

The information sheet that came with the Dixondale Farm onion sets I planted says that as a general rule, sweeter onions don’t store as long as more pungent ones.  The food gardening guide  for onions says to use the thick neck onions first.

Thick neck onions, shallots, chives - from church garden

This correlates with the writings in  Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel.  They say that thin neck onions store better than ones with thick necks.   This Mother Earth News article offers quite a bit of information on how to plant and harvest onions for storage.

So far, I have only harvested onions for immediate use.  I plan to follow the recommended harvest procedure, prepare some for storage and see how well I do.  I haven’t been very good about keeping records on the taste and types for the onions I have harvested so far.  I guess as a neophyte veggie gardener, I’m just happy to harvest some onions.  Hopefully I’ll improve on record keeping and fertilizing.

I’m still searching for names of  varieties that store well.  I’d rather plant heirloom onions.  I’m not ready just yet to try starting onions from seed, so I’ll keep an eye out for heirloom onion sets.

One thing that remains a mystery to me – what did I do with the cipollini onions that I thought I unpacked back in March?  Did I accidentally drop them into a package headed to the thrift store?  Am I going to discover an awful smell of rotten onions one of these days in the basement or in the garage?  Or did I dream the appearance of the cipollini onions?