Monday, June 26, 2006

Another Reason to Grow Organic

The results from a study funded by Michael J. Fox's Parkinson Foundation, the first large-scale analysis of its kind, were announced today by the Harvard School of Public Health.

People routinely exposed to various pesticides had a 70% (seventy!) greater likelihood of developing Parkinson's Disease. When results were correlated for age, gender, and other risk factors, this enormous discrepancy clearly emerged.

Ask what the gardener is putting on your lawn to make it so green. Read the labels on 'bug spray', the kind you use outdoors on plants and the kind you use indoors. Think about how many pesticides simply build up in one's system, and how exposure is lifetime cumulative to many of the worst. Is it really worth it?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Not a Good Week: Garden Destruction

I'm getting through this past week by gritting my teeth and doing what I can. It turns out that my 22-inch wide raised beds next to the patio were on the wrong side of the property line. So I had to move them. With mature plants. If you are cringing, yes, you get it.

I was able to keep the rootballs of many things intact, and move them into the big tubs that I usually use to pick up compost from the local recycling center.

My little herb garden seems okay so far, knock on wood, though the chamomile is still wilty, it had fairly deep roots. The peppers and eggplants were relatively shallow-rooted (6 - 10 inches) and seem to be doing okay so far. The tomatillos are reasonably perky, though they are starting to lose leaf color. I have some VF-11 and am going to try foliar feeding. Very intimidated, have not tried this before. I have been spraying the tomato & tomatillo plants down periodically with plain water, to try to compensate for the lost feeder roots, to keep the foliage from dying off.

The tomatoes are the hardest hit. The magnificent Aunt Ruby's German Green is still mostly wilted, though some bottom and midsection leaf recovery. The Hawaiian Pineapple has come mostly back to life, am cautiously hoping. The Santa Clara Canner is still fairly wilty, really goofed the rootball on that one. The tricolor Italian pole beans are a total loss, alas, even though I moved their rootballs and trellis section carefully.

I ordered a bunch of self-watering planters from Gardener's Supply, quite the budget-breaker, but at least they'll last for many years, and can go up on the patio. I may need to move the greenhouse, too, as there's a gas maintainance cover there. I don't want to risk having to yank everything out of the greenhouse some winter if they need to work on the gas. Mike is trying to argue that will not happen, but then I listened to him and to the property manager when the issue of the property line first came up about 6 - 8 weeks ago. They said 'no, no, don't move anything yet, you may not have to'. But if I'd moved stuff there and then, while the tomatoes were still under a couple feet tall, I wouldn't have the carnage of today.

The last planter has the bulk of my Scarlet Runner beans, going up 6 feet of trellis, the Black Cherry tomato, and the Noir de Crimee black tomato. I am going to have to face moving it today. Sometimes I think I should just rip the plants out and put them in the yard waste recycling bin and start over, but I cringe at the thought. I need to do one or the other, though-- move them again into a self-watering planter and hope they recover, or start new seedlings. We still have 60 - 90 reasonable growing days, in theory, though I don't think tomato seeds started now would get to bear before the August heat shutdown. They might still bear in the cooler September weather, though.

I may post pix later. Right now I'm too overwhelmed by it all. I shouldn't be, I suppose, as I still have my garden squares on the other side of the yard, with my paste tomatoes, my Tigerella and Green Zebra, and a couple of other things. Not like those poor folks in South Central Los Angeles, who just lost their community gardens of a generation or more. But it still majorly sucks.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Garden Desktop: Rainbow Chard

Rainbow chard is aptly named, covering almost the whole spectrum. It's delicious as well as beautiful. Young, tender leaves and stalks can be used to brighten up salads, while the mature chard makes a tasty steamed green similar to spinach. Let your chard go too long, until it's huge and tough? Use it in recipes that require chopped kale, it's a fair substitute. Chard comes in many colors, and to my way of thinking, the more the better! This is a widely available cultivar called 'Bright Lights'. I think it lives up to its name quite well!

If you are thinking that chard looks similar to beet greens, you are quite correct. Chard was developed long ago from beets, and bred to produce leaves instead of a beetroot. Chard in general lacks the characteristic bitter flavor of beet greens, although very large mature stalks seem to carry their share of the oxalic acid that gives beet greens that tang. Chard seed looks almost identical to beet seed, which means that it's large enough to be planted by hand rather than scattered like lettuce. Growing chard is quite simple, almost a matter of 'plant the seed and stand back'. I like to soak the seeds overnight before planting, as they will germinate much faster that way.

Don't have a garden? Chard will thrive in a flowerpot by a sunny window or on a balcony. A windowbox of brightly colored chard looks fresh and breezy, and will give you leaves until the hot dog-days of high summer if you pick it regularly. Snip the stalks down at the base of the plant, leaving only the smallest 2 - 4 inch leaves to continue growing. In about 2 weeks, you'll have another crop. Or simply snip every leaf bigger than 8 inches (leaf length only, not stalk) every few days.

If planting outdoors in a garden, a couple of caveats apply. Here in the Bay Area, chard is a favorite of thrips and leaf miners. Their larva can blight and ruin large sections of leaf. I've found that using some floating row cover works wonders. The chard appreciates a little more protection from evening chills, and the moisture-preserving effects of the row cover. Take a little section of 2-foot flower-border wire, chicken wire, or similar and bend it into an arch, like a little quonset hut. Fasten floating row cover to that with plastic bread ties or cable ties, and you have a nice re-usable cover for your chard and for other tender seedlings. You'll want 12 - 18 inches height for the chard-- it will grow taller, but it's getting tougher and bitter at that stage, so harvest at the 8 - 12 inch leaf stage for the best flavor and texture.

Hop on over to My Bay Area Kitchen to see some of this yummy chard in action.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Having a Bloomarific Day

I went to a conference in Boston, caught a cold, and came back early. This morning I took Mike's new/used camera out to the garden to play with and to see how things were doing. Um, yow. I was gone *how* long?! I'm astonished by what four days can change during the 'off like a rocket' part of the growing season.

The first thing to catch my eye were the scarlet runner beans. When I left, only a few blossoms peeked out from under the leaves, in contrast to what you can see today. I've got high hopes for the scarlets. I have no idea whether I've over or under planted, as I don't know how productive they will turn out to be. Interestingly enough, there are one or two plants with white blossoms in both this batch and the batch of 8 - 10 scarlets that I planted by the squash arbor. We'll see what happens, should be interesting.

Sharing the trellis-end with the scarlets is a "Black Cherry" tomato, and I couldn't resist a peek underneath to see if they'd started setting fruit yet. Yes! How marvelous. I don't think anyone else is setting yet, but I haven't taken a detailed survey. Certainly I've got blossoms galore on both the "Noir de Crimee" black tomato in the same planter, and the "Aunt Ruby's German Green" a couple of planters down, but I haven't seen fruit yet. I used all of the canned tomatoes making turkey chili two weeks ago, so we're down to some quartered romas and some whole sungolds and yellow-pears in the freezer. Can I use them up before the 2006 crop matures? I'd darn well better!

Encouragingly, the tomatillos have gone from small stalks about 3 weeks ago to fractal branchings of dozens of flowers. It's been hard to keep up with them and nudge them into and out of the coated-wire cage I put around them. There are some branches near the base that snuck out and proceeded to fan and fan again, so I might have to rig up some supports when they start to fruit, lest they snap off. But maybe this year I'll have both tomatillos and tomatos at the same time, for salsa. Of course, my peppers are way behind, and my cilantro has already gone by. I'll start some more cilantro in a shady area and see if I can get the stars to align this year. :-)

Last, but by no means least, I noticed this gorgeous little bloom, our first eggplant blossom ever! This is "Lavender Beauty", a thin, long style eggplant. Unlike the "Lil Spooky" and "Ping Tung Long", both of which I started as seedlings, this plant was an impulse buy from OSH or Sunnywind. I couldn't resist the picture of the mature fruit, a rich pastel lavender streaked with white. The shade of the flower is about the same color. I've never tried growing eggplant before, so this is exciting. My little hand-raised guys are just starting to feel warm enough to leaf out fully, in contrast to the Lavender Beauty. I still have a lot to learn about starting seedlings and providing for their needs! Maybe I'll heat the greenhouse next spring, or try using black 'waterbed' bags for passive solar smoothing of temps.