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Breakfast Garden Talk – Thank you Cheryl Nichols!

Saturday, July 30, about 15 members of the WildWest Community Garden met under the children’s tent at the Wildwood YMCA for a bagel and pastry breakfast, provided by St. Louis Bread Company and delivered by Jerry Mooneyham.  Jodi Smedley announced that Gill is moving to Holland and Bridget Clancy will be the new “bug corner” author.  Bridget has a a lot of horticulture experience and works at Zicks.   The meal was accompanied by a great talk from Arlene and Terry Conner’s realtor friend and life long gardener, Cheryl Nichols.

Cheryl Nichols, sharing some of her favorite catalogs

Cheryl grew up in southern Minnesota on a family farm.  She remembers how her Dad used animal manures for fertilizer and the many fruits and vegetables they grew.  She told of an apple tree onto which her Dad had grafted multiple varieties of apples.  At the advice of the Department of Agriculture, her Dad sold all his animals and focused on one crop , all the while her Granddad was saying “This will come back to bite you!”.  She remembers doing a report in high school on the book, The Poisons in our Foods and says at that point she decided to avoid manufactured foods like chips, cake mixes, etc.  I checked a few websites to see if an old edition of the book was available, but couldn’t find it.  She recommended two movies about food, Food, Inc and King Corn. Helen mentioned Forks over Knives, which was recently screened at Whole Foods.  This movie “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.”   All three of these films are available from the county Library.

Cheryl talked about the difference in gardening in Minnesota and Missouri.  Minnesota soil is rich and black and while the garden season there starts later than here, plants grow more rapidly in Minnesota because the days are longer there.  She said it has taken awhile to learn how to grow food in our rocky soil.  She said some of the old timer Missouri gardeners she talked with said they sow spinach seeds in the fall, just before the first frost.  The seeds will germinate in the spring and be ready to grow at the earliest possible time.  Others also say they plant lettuce on February 14, regardless of the weather.

She has many long narrow beds, 3’ x 25’,  that are essentially raised without frames.  She uses a lot of mulch from lawn clippings, making sure that the clippings are from yards that do not receive herbicidal treatment. She sterilizes her seed starter soil in a stainless bowl in a 200 degree F oven for a couple of hours.  She buys copper fungicide in the powder form and mixes it with water in a small sprayer bottle and applies to her 26 beds.  Yes, you read correctly, 26!

Peppers can easily get too much nitrogen (N), especially if near another plant that produces nitrogen or if you feed too often.  She says when that happens, the plant will make blossoms and get tall, but won’t bear fruit.   She observed that most of the tomato plants in our gardens needed a boost of nitrogen – many lost a lot of their leaves during our blight issues.  Others are just pale green.  She recommended a foliar spray like Miracle Gro.  She doesn’t like to use fish emulsion as a foliar spray on tomato plants because she feels it affects the flavor. Some recommend kelp spray as an organic solution.   In any case, when you spray the leaves of plants, you want to avoid spraying the fruit. You also want to spray early morning or evening so the wet leaves aren’t burned by the sun.   She asked me to tell everyone to be careful not to over due it with fertilizer. Here are her recommendations:   If the leaves are watered twice in a two week period with Miracle Gro, it will be enough.  If too much Miracle Gro is applied, you could end up with all leaves and no fruit.  Balance is important.  Always read the directions for the fertilizer.  For the rest of the summer, use an organic fertilizer. 

She also thinks the gardens aren’t getting enough water.  Although they are watered every morning, most of our gardens didn’t have mulch to keep the moisture in and as hot and dry as it has been they probably need to be deep watered at least once a week with a hose.  Cheryl noticed that after Arlene Conner followed her suggestions for foliar feeding and additional watering, Arlene’s garden looks much better.  She also said that the high temperatures and dry weather we have been having will cause most plants to stop producing as they conserve energy to survive.  Blossoms are likely to fall off or just not set.

She admired the fencing around our garden, saying she has many critter issues, ranging from raccoons, turtles, rabbits and deer.  The best product she has found for a deer repellent is Bobbex which she sprays around her perimeter fencing.

Here’s a partial list of some of her favorite vegetable varieties:

  • Peppers – Margaret’s red
  • Tomatoes – Amish Paste, Legend, and White Queen
  • Zucchini – Black zucchini

She orders many seeds from catalogs.  A couple of her favorite sources are Jung Seed and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.   Baker Creek is a family owned company located in Missouri and has an interesting history.  For old fashioned vegetable varieties, she shops at Valley Park Elevator where she buys seeds by the ounce inexpensively.  She subscribes to Mother Earth News, and finds a lot of helpful gardening information on the MOBOT gardening help site.

She grows most of her plants from seeds, starting many under fluorescent lights before time to transplant.  She says it’s very important to keep the transplants less than 2″ from the light.  Otherwise, they get thin and “leggy”.

On the subject of strawberries, she had several comments.  The variety she has grown for several years  is Allstar.  They are very productive, disease resistant and good for eating fresh.  Cheryl says she has had sweeter ones, but Allstar is good for making jam although it does not freeze well.  They lose their color and are mushy when frozen.  She recently had an 8 point buck devour the leaves of her plants but she said they are rapidly recovering.

She said most seed catalogs selling strawberry crowns will tell you if they are better for freezing or eating fresh.  She thins her strawberry plants every third year, removing the oldest plant crowns.  It’s necessary to know whether you have June bearing or every bearing strawberries.  June bearing produce fruit for 2-3 weeks, then begin to send out runners and make new plants for the next season. This spring she ordered the variety Honeoye from Jung Seeds to replace Allstar.   Allstar and Honeoye are both Junebearers which means they produce a very heavy crop in June. This spring she also planted Tristar which is an everbearer meaning it produces all summer long but the production is not heavy.

She also recommended bird netting over the plants rather than the Reemay row cover some are using in the garden.  Bird netting is available in rolls in most garden centers and is probably available at Valley Park Elevator.  Cheryl was concerned that the leaves don’t get enough sun light when covered with Reemay row cover.

For small beds like ours, she suggested bush varieties of squash and other vining plants, unless you train them to grow vertically.  Otherwise, one plant can take over your garden and the one next to it.

Cheryl provided a fabulous handout, with 3 pages devoted to tomatoes and a calendar from Missouri Botanical Gardens with gardening tasks for the month of July.  There’s also a discussion of organic disease control along with several recipes for organic treatments.    There’s a page devoted to squash bugs and an integrated pest management plan. This link has some great images of squash bug eggs, nymphs, and fully grown beetles.

Squash beetle eggs

Jodi and I discovered some of the squash beetle eggs clustered on a leaf in one of the plots.  When we turned the adjacent leaves over, we found the nymphs crawling all over it.  Every one needs to keep an eye out for these pests.  Destroy the eggs, nymphs and beetles.

Another page from Missouri Botanical Garden is titled Making Compost.  One page discusses primary plant food elements.  On the garden tour, Cheryl pointed out beets that needed additional Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K).  Phosphorus is needed for growth of roots and Potassium often in the form of potash, promotes production of sugar and increases vigor of plants.  There were two pages devoted to peppers.  The final page is a list of resources for organic gardening, with books, internet sites, magazines, local and catalog suppliers.  Jodi has extra copies of this handout and you can find much of the content on the MOBOT gardening help web site.

While touring the garden, Cheryl shared several observations.  She observed many fruits and vegetables, ripe and overripe.

Green bean, ready for picking

She mentioned that exposing a tomato to the sun will not aid ripening.  She pointed out that if you need to pick a tomato before it is ripe,  the best way to ripen it is by placing it in a paper bag.  Ethylene gas is released during ripening and some people speed the process by adding a banana or an apple in the bag with the green tomato.  This makes sense if you think about the fact that tomatoes and peppers can suffer sun scald.  This Colorado State University site talks about ripening tomatoes, especially if you find yourself removing them in advance of frost.  Another source of information I found that all you tomato lovers might find helpful is The Tomato Dirt web site.

In conclusion, I’m sure I have missed something; Cheryl’s talk and tour was quite informative and I feel sure I have forgotten some details. If you missed the event, you will definitely benefit by obtaining a copy of the hand out from Jodi. You can also visit the various links included in this post.


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.

Planting purple Japanese sweet potato slips

I bought 30 purple Japanese sweet potato slips  from Karl Burgart,  Healthy Harvest Gardens,  at the Ellisville Farmers Market on Thursday, planning on getting them in the ground Friday morning.  After looking at my plot at WildWest Community Garden I realized that I  only have room for maybe one plant.  I planted one after adding some of Dana’s coffee grounds and some soil   left from “build” day.  Most references say that soil for sweet potatoes needs some extra preparation and that they like acidic soil.  Since I didn’t take any of those extra steps, I’ll be lucky to get many sweet potatoes, but I figure you have to start somewhere.  I left most of the potato slips there, hoping some of the other gardeners will try them too.  Karl said that they are supposed to be great “keepers”, which means they can store well after harvest.  Last year I learned another interesting fact about sweet potatoes: they need to be “cured” to improve their flavor.

I took the opportunity to record the progress of the squash and cucumber plants that I planted from sprouted seeds 6/4/11.  I thought I might be able to plant 2 or 3 slips at the church garden and drove there in spite of what appeared to be a developing thunder storm in the northwest.  After arriving, I unloaded my tools and the potato slips and surveyed the two plots there.  I noticed wild sweet potatoes, or perhaps they are just morning glories, along the path.

close up, sweet potato or morning glory?

close up, sweet potato or morning glory?

It’s fascinating to me that some plants are related – who would have thought that the sweet potato was in the same family as the common morning glory?  And until I planted radishes this year, I would never have thought about a radish making flowers.

Delicate pink flower on one nonproductive radish

Delicate pink flower on one nonproductive radish

Obviously the seeds come from somewhere; you would think I would have connected the dots.  And did the few that flowered in my garden do so because they were too crowded and the plant somehow decided that it should go to seed if the root wasn’t going to grow?  Or did it flower just because it had been in the ground a certain number of days?  Another mystery of gardening – if you know the answer, please share it with me.

I managed to get one slip planted in the south bed before I decided that I really shouldn’t be out in a field with thunder rumbling in the distance and foreboding skies closing in.  I hurriedly packed up and will just have to make it another day.  Leaving was a wise decision; the storm passed through the area about 30 minutes later.  We had more storms early this morning and are apparently in another cycle of unstable weather.

6-17-11 NW skies that prompted me to pack up and come home

6-17-11 NW skies that prompted me to pack up and come home

Gallery of Images, 6-17-11 WildWest Community Garden  & LW Church Garden (click on images to enlarge)

Is it really May? Feels more like November.

Today it really does feel like November.  Wish I could share the rain with those still suffering from drought.  I finally moved the transplants from the covered deck to the open.  I had to do it in the rain, but they looked so pathetic I felt like I had to do something.   Hopefully the Algaflash feed and rain will help revive them.

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I don’t know what I’ll do if my North Face windbreaker ever gives out.  Although it was soaked; I stayed dry inside it.  Did you ever have a piece of clothing that held so many memories that you’d miss it if it were gone?  This jacket fits that description.  Robert gave it to me years ago – probably 5 or 10 years before our 21 year old son was born.  Here’s an image of our son Eric and me sitting on a rock at Estes Park, CO when he was about 18 months old.

1991 - with Eric at lake, Estes Park, CO

And there are many more memories of hikes and vacations, wearing this jacket.  Memories of Boy Scout camp outs, standing around the fire, knowing I could go home and wash the smoke and grit out of the jacket and it would be good as new.

Dancing Woman’s Gardening Archives

Dancing Woman

Another harvest day

Yesterday I worked at the two community gardens from 1:45 – about 5 pm.  I left WildWest Garden about 3 pm, spending as much time visiting as working. At the church garden, I harvested chard, radishes and just 3 green onions.

5-9-11 Radishes - Easter Egg Blend

5-9-11 Rainbow Chard, from north church bed

I began laying landscape fabric around the beds to reduce my exposure to ticks.  I only had 6 bags of cedar mulch, so I will have to complete this job later.  Also realized that I needed to cover a wider path in order not to totally mess up the path for mowing.  If I just mulch the space next to my beds, it leaves a section to be mowed that isn’t as wide as the mower.  Then I came home, feed the animals, put away the veggies and went to Lowes’s in order to pick up some organic potting soil.   I’ll use this soil for the tomato containers on the deck.  I discovered that the Hartmann’s Yellow Trifele in a container on the deck  blew over during our brief shower and subsequent strong winds.  The stem had cracked at the soil line.  Sigh.  It was almost two feet tall and had blossoms appearing.  The plan is to build a rolling platform with a trellis mounted to it; I should have placed a temporary trellis  for it.

I visited and found a recipe for sauteed radishes,  that also uses the greens.  I prepared that as a side dish for dinner.   We liked it; the greens were a beautiful green and the taste was like a mild turnip and greens dish.  The recipe can be found here,  (I’m still having trouble getting WP to insert a link – sorry).

Mother’s Day gardening

Yesterday was a beautiful Mother’s Day and a great day for gardening, although a little warm.  It was 86 degrees in the afternoon, with no breeze.  Robert and I went to the Wild West Community garden after church and installed the 7′ wide trellis.  It’s almost 6′ tall.   Robert pounded the 4′ rebar into the ground using our fence post driving tool we bought at an estate sale last year.  Another very handy tool.  The trellis spans 7′ of the north side of the bed which is 4′ x 14′.

Wild West Community garden 7' wide trellis

I replanted the golden oregano which was apparently pulled from the bed during the night by a critter.  The 7′ plastic net fence is now in place on 3 sides of the garden.  The west side is bordered by a shrub wall backed with a 4′ fence which is part of a fence around a play ground.   This is visible in the background of the above  image.

I also went to the church beds, watered, planted a few more potato plants and did a little weeding.

Church, north bed broccoli 5-8-11

The onions seem to be doing well and the Swiss chard is also looking good.

Church north bed, Swiss chard, 5-8-11

I haven’t had any takers for the seed potatoes.  I decided to plant a few in the church bed so I will have at least one of each variety that I purchased.  I planted Irish cobbler, French Fingerling (2), Red Norland, and Sangre in the south bed.  There are 3 potatoes planted in the north bed, but I need to  figure out what varieties because I didn’t fill out my chart when I was there.

Yukon gold and Sangre seed potatoes

My favorite quote today is something I saw on a U City garden group t-shirt a few days ago at the Native Plant Sale.  I found it online attributed to Ahmed Kathrada:  “People who have wild ideas about how to run the earth ought to start with a small garden”  .  So true.  Today we had a very brief storm that produced a lot of wind. Didn’t  think about my transplant, the Hartmann’s s yellow trifle that is planted in a container on the deck. The main branch broke at the soil line.  So much for months of nursing the transplants along in the basement.

Dancing Woman’s Gardening Ventures

I’ve decided to move my garden journal from another site to WordPress in hopes that I could improve the readability and incorporate images within the text.