July is a busy time for gardeners, and UVa’s Community Garden is no exception! Even though Mother Nature hasn’t been too helpful in the watering department, we’re harvesting right and left (I may or may not be eating three cucumbers a day to keep up, just saying). Read on for all of the very juicy details, and the obligatory sunflower pics because, really, how could I resist? Continue reading “Helluva Harvest”→
This week the garden had special guests, human and non-human, and it decked itself out accordingly. Even more so than last week, the sunflowers are blooming like crazy and the cucumbers are producing so much fruit that I can barely keep up. And would it be a blog post if I didn’t include a mini-rant about rodents and pests?
In a shocking turn of events, this week features adventures in dumpster diving, close encounters with rodents, painful losses, rewarding harvests, and beautiful blooms. Is that dramatic or what?! Gotta love summer as a gardener; let’s get right to it!
Summertime Swim in the Dumpster
As you may recall from last week, our cucumbers were out of control! They grew so fast, they were in desperate need of a new trellis. Lauren found a craigslist ad for some free pallets, so this week we went pallet hunting!
We were actually very successful! There’s only one problem: Lauren drives a BMW. A very beautiful, very small BMW that was not in any way made to transport pallets. One man who helped us load up the pallets happened to collect BMW’s; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man so visibly distressed/horrified! (Poor guy, but it’s for the sake of our cukes!)
After we went around Cville collecting pallets, we took another trip to Lowe’s to get some supplies to build the trellises. Cucumbers like to climb, but they like to grab onto thin things, not broad wood boards, so we bought twine and small nails to hang in the pallets. Lauren helped me resist the urge to buy neon pink twine (it was cute, but more expensive).
We also bought hinges to attach the pallets, and wood screws.
I used a drill for the VERY FIRST TIME! I was ridiculously excited. Lauren taught me about pilot holes, screws, and the like. We got those pallets together in no time!
After attaching the hinges, we hammered nails to both sides of the pallets in a criss-cross manner so that we could string the twine in a zig-zag pattern. Like I said, cucumbers are climbers, but they prefer to grab onto something thinner than a thick wooden board, so hanging twine or something like it is an important step when turning pallets into trellises (at least for our purposes). We chose twine that is weather proof and meant for gardening, to ensure that it’ll last.
With so many cucumbers, we weren’t done yet! We kept going and made a second trellis from another pallet. By this point, all of our pallet shenanigans had attracted some attention, so we had the help of a new volunteer.
Lots of room for cucumbers to climb
I’m happy to report that the cucumbers are already starting to climb their new trellises!
O Celery, Where Art Thou?
Remember my first blog post when I was oh-so-excited about planting Celery? In case you forgot, here’s a quick picture of how young and precious and wonderful it was:
I had EIGHT PLANTS. EIGHT. Guess how many I have right now? ONE. O. N. E. Even that top picture is out of date! How did this happen, you may ask? Am I devastated, you may ask? Read below to find out the answer to both questions.
Picture this: I come back from pallet-hunting with Lauren, very excited to build a trellis, and I walk over to the celery bed, casually, not expecting much, just checking in on my fragile water-hogs, (that I love dearly) only to see that SIX OF THEM ARE MISSING!
I stared at the bed blankly and looked at the holes with such confusion??? Surely I had planted celery?? I mean, I blogged about it? I complained to all my coworkers about how thirsty it was?? I pinned about a million celery tips and tricks and recipes?? Did I make it all up?
In the midst of this Celery-induced crisis (CIC), Lauren walked up and assured me that I had, in fact, planted celery. And that it was, in fact, mysteriously missing.
Still devastated, I lovingly patted my remaining two celery plants, shook my fist at any surrounding rodents, and got ready for the Lowe’s trip. When we got back, I saw the second Celery being PULLED DOWN A HOLE. BEFORE MY VERY EYES.
I SCREECHED. I couldn’t believe it was happening. Is this what it had come to? Was I about to get into a game of tug-of-war with an unidentified burrowing fiend??
But the damage was already done! It was gone! So, yes, I am devastated. Apparently, mud cannons and brute force are not enough to get rid of rodents. At this point, I’m still not sure if I have moles/voles/rats/woodchucks/all of the above, but I am sure that I am in desperate need of a Community Garden Cat (just kidding, kind of).
Harvests and Blooms
It’s not all gloom and doom over at the garden of course! We also have gorgeous blooms and had a wonderful harvest of cabbage and a few more carrots this week!
These sunflowers are gorgeous! They’re also WAY too tall for me to take pictures of now! I need to invest in a selfie stick or something, I swear that some of them are well above 6ft.
The Marigolds are still blooming! To extend their blooms, it’s really important to deadhead, or pick off the dead blooms so that the plant can focus it’s energy on new ones. Before putting them in the compost, I used the old blooms for some Quality Art (There’s a reason my fine arts requirement is still unfulfilled).
Okra’s flowers resemble their relative the hibiscus. They’re beautiful!
Don’t tell the others, but he’s my favorite.
The cabbage is absolutely gorgeous! I never thought that I would describe cabbage as beautiful, but here we are. In a stroke of really convenient timing (or maybe just because it’s seasonal) I was also harvesting cabbages at Bellair this week, so I received a crash course in cabbage harvesting!
Your cabbage is ready for harvest when the head feels firm. You should be able to squeeze it and have little resistance. When that’s the case, cut off the head with a knife or shears and peel away and bug-ridden outer leaves and ta-da! You have a head of cabbage!
This cucumber was just about ready to go! I might have picked it a little too early, but I was eager to taste the first of the bunch. They’re delicious! It’s shocking how much more flavorful garden cucumbers are as compared to grocery store cucumbers.
After the Celery disaster, I pulled a few more Cosmic Carrots, because I’m getting a little nervous about my root veggies. Most of them are still too small, and a few of them were “dancing carrots” (meaning they grew a little funny and now they look like they have legs).
It’s okay to be different friends, keep on dancing! And don’t forget to come out to our summer workdays, Thursdays from 5 to 7 and Saturdays from 3 to 5. We’d love to have you join us!
Buckle up, readers! This week brings another tumultuous adventure in organic pest management. Don’t worry, it’s not all insects and fungi, there’s also exciting news about hoses, harvests, cucumbers, and more, so grab your favorite insecticidal soap, check the area for squash bugs, have a seat, and read on.
Harlequin Bugs: I’m Not Laughing
Let me take you on a trip down memory lane. A little less than a year ago, I walked by the Community Garden on the way to class repeatedly, staring wistfully at all the greenery, but I had no idea how to get involved. One day, I walked by and a group of people were surrounding a tall plant. I was ecstatic- it was my Chance!
I ran up and asked if I could join, and they said, “Sure, we’re picking harlequin bugs off, you have small hands, that’s perfect! Just grab them and put ’em in the jar!”
Now, to say that bugs made me squeamish is an extreme understatement. But I wanted to be around plants, and I wanted friends that wanted to be around plants, so guess who hand picked some harlequin bugs that day?
All this to say that Harlequin bugs and I go way back. We’re old frenemies. We have a history. And not one time in our history have they ever made me laugh. They are, ironically, no laughing matter!
They’re actually named not for their humor but for their coloring. Their orange, black, and white shells are actually kind of beautiful, though that effect wears off when you realize how dang destructive they are.
Tell-tale damage from Harlequin bugs includes holes, discoloration, and yellow spots. They absolutely ravaged the Red Russian Kale.
Their eggs are white with black rings. They lay them on the underside of leaves. I can confirm that while the picture is pretty, it’s really freaky to find them in person and realize that they contain a bunch of tiny bugs.
It’s hard to combat Harlequin bugs as an organic gardener! They love Kale, Cabbage, and anything in the Brassica family. They’re really attacking the Kale right now. I’m taking two main approaches to get rid of these guys: Hand picking and Neem Oil.
The first approach is to hand pick the bugs off of the Kale and into a tub of soapy water. It’s just a solution of dish soap and water, and because of the scale of the garden it is feasible for me to go through and inspect the Kale. I pull off all the harlequin bugs and eggs and scrape them into the tub. The bugs are at different stages in the life cycles, some are big adults, some are very small, and some are still eggs, but I don’t discriminate. I carefully pick all that I can off of the plant and into the tub. Bye-bye bugs!
The second approach is to spray Neem oil, which is an organic insecticide and fungicide. It doesn’t hurt beneficial insects, and it works sort of like a hormone, confusing and deterring bad bugs (learn more here).
Flea Beetles: Please Bug Off
Flea Beetles have something in common with Harlequin Bugs: my disapproval. These little weirdos are attacking the eggplants! The eggplants are still young-ish, so seeing them covered in black bugs and riddled with holes nearly made me go grey this week. I just want all my plants to be happy and healthy!
After some googling, I discovered the weird, tiny, jumping fiends are called Flea Beetles, notorious for attacking Eggplants.
I’ve been spraying the Eggplants with Neem oil as well. Who ever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend clearly never met an organic gardener. If someone proposed to me with a bottle of Neem Oil, there’s a 90% chance I’d say yes (Or at least take the bottle and politely decline).
Powdery Mildew: Ew, Ew, Ew!
Last but CERTAINLY not least on the list of alarming garden maladies this week is Powdery Mildew.
At first, I noticed a spot on one of the pea leaves. I thought it was strange, but didn’t question it too much. I took a picture, and decided to check back the next day.
Oh man, this is a problem that will not be ignored! Powdery mildew is a fungus that presents itself in a powdery, white-ish manner. It started off as a few spots and then turned to a dust like covering of entire plants.
My guess is that one of the primary things spreading it is a weed, Henbit, that’s known for it’s pretty purple flowers, and it’s rampant in the garden. It seems to be very susceptible to powdery mildew and is spreading it from bed to bed.
Enough is enough! Neem oil, AKA my favorite thing on the planet, is also a fungicide, so I sprayed everything down liberally and I’m going to continue treatments until this clears up. I also spent several hours yesterday weeding, paying special attention to the infected Henbit, to hopefully prevent any further spread.
The good news is that the neem oil does seem to be helping! I just need to keep at it, and hopefully I can eradicate this.
Harvests, Hoses, Cukes, and Soil
With all this craziness going on, there’s still an abundance of lush life flourishing too! This week, with lots of help from a wonderful volunteer named Lauren, I was able to harvest the first of the Cosmic Carrots, reconfigure the irrigation system, and trellis some cucumbers, among other gardening tasks.
Red Russian Kale
Between fending off beetles and fleas, I harvested a bunch of Red Russian Kale this week. Red Russian Kale is known for its beautiful purple stems. It’s great raw and in a variety of recipes. Even with all our bug trouble, most of our Kale is just fine! Some volunteers at Bell Air told me their tricks for dealing with buggy produce, which is to soak it in salt water before eating it. That way, all the bugs and debris fall off!
All grown up
Kale Bouquet, Anyone?
Holes never hurt anyone!
This variety of Carrots is out of this world! They’re called Cosmic Carrots. They’re purple on the outside, but orange on the inside. They’re delicious! A few of them were ready for harvest this week, but most of them need some more time.
Hose Fiasco: Parts One and Two
One day, I’ll write a book about the struggles that I have had with the Community Garden’s irrigation/hose system. It’ll be a book in two parts, and it’ll have drama, heartbreak, loss, and more. For now, I’ll summarize; we have a rain barrel, which is amazing, but doesn’t have a whole lot of pressure. So up until now, we’ve been watering primarily with watering cans. There was a hose next to the rain barrel, but it was really old and hole-y and kinked up and extremely tangled (see: hose fiasco part one).
Recently, Lauren and I took a trip to Lowe’s (Thanks to Lauren’s having a car and willingness to drive me, she is basically my Garden Fairy god Sister) and bought a hose and a new connector.
Now we can fill up watering cans near the beds! Less trips walking to the rain barrel will save time and energy. Also, the hose is long enough, when hooked up to other hoses, that I can water a few beds without watering cans! It’s an amazing feeling!
These cucumbers are growing like crazy! We’ve trellised them, but they continue to climb and take over everything they can. They’re already starting to produce fruit!
Last week Lauren and I fixed up an old bed. We filled it with soil and compost before planting lettuce, radishes, and bush beans. Feeding soil with compost before planting is very important in order to ensure that it will provide plants with plenty of nutrients.
In Vegeterian Myth. Lierre Kieth asks, “Was the soil actually eating? What was soil? Was it, too, alive? One tablespoon of soil contains more than one million living organisms, and, yes, every one of them is eating. Soil isn’t just dirt.”
Lauren shoveling compost like a pro
Half way there
Keith goes on to detail her resistance to the idea of NPK, fertilizer, and manure, as it conflicted with her vegan ideals when she first began gardening, and her ultimate acceptance of the life and needs of soil. It’s easy to forget that “soil isn’t just dirt,” as she phrases it, but it’s vital for gardeners and farmers at all scales to remember to feed your soil with compost or other nutrients to keep it a healthy growing environment for your plants.
Wow! This week has brought so much DRAMA to the garden! Beauties are blooming, the plants are growing taller than I am, there was a second round of staking, and I warred fiercely with mystery rodents. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Step aside Mr. McGregor…Mary Rose is on it!
When I was little, I LOVED Peter Rabbit. Love may be an understatement- I had a Peter Rabbit Blanket, the Peter Rabbit books, everything. I hated his arch-nemesis, that mean old selfish vegetable gardener Mr. McGregor. I mean, all poor sweet Peter Rabbit wanted to do was munch on some veggies!
Oh how things change! If I could call Mr. McGregor up right now and beg for some organic pest and rodent management advice, I would. Though if memory serves, he isn’t the friendliest, and he’d probably just tell me to bake my pest into a pie, so maybe it’s for the best that he’s fictional and too much of a hermit to take my calls.
This week, I really started noticing big holes and tunnels in the garden. And by “started noticing,” I mean I tripped in them repeatedly until I couldn’t ignore them anymore.
Last semester, we had a problem with rats in our compost bins, but these holes look a bit big for rats, and out rat trap is empty. So we either have some really big rats, some really small woodchucks, or something else. Whatever it is, I want it gone!
There are clusters of holes right by the compost bins.
My hand for scale.
There’s a particularly big one right by the carrot bed.
Ready the Mud Cannons
By talking to different folks this week, the main advice I’ve gotten is to trap the possible Woodchuck/mystery pest (as there’s been no sighting, it’s unclear what it is) and shoot it. Though I appreciate the advice, I’m not going to take that route.
Instead, I’m going with harassment. (See: Me, shaking my fist ultra-menacingly at the burrow). Different smells drive rodents crazy, especially smells of predators. I’m asking all of my friends, coworkers, and volunteers, to donate some smelly, used cat litter (very gross, yes, but the rodents think so too!) to bury in the burrows and hopefully flush the rodents out.
In the meantime, I spent a good amount of time yesterday filling every single hole with sticks and leaves, packing them tightly, and then capping them with a thick layer of mud.
First I filled the holes with sticks and leaves, stuffed in with a long stick until compact, then I stirred up a nice mixture of mud. It was quite a throwback to my days of making mud pies.
After stirring up the mud, I packed it tightly over the leaf-filled burrows.
This serves a few purposes. For one, it might be enough to annoy the woodchucks/rats/rodents of unusual size/??? that they pack up and move out. Probably not, especially if they’re as well established as I fear they are, but it’s possible.
Also, it’ll hopefully prevent me and others who are walking around the garden from falling or tripping because of the holes. Moreover, on a diagnostic level, it will let me know what is still active and where when I check back tomorrow and see what has been disturbed.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
Maybe this rock will keep them out?
This mud pie is happy to help
Those mystery rodents can’t keep us down! With all of the summer sun, the garden’s plants are thriving at the moment. From Marigolds to Tomatoes, our babies are blooming!
It’s been so fun to watch the Marigolds grow, I remember planting them from seed awhile back and now they’re blooming away.
Besides being beautiful, Marigolds are known for repelling insects and for their value in tea, adding color to salads, and even making syrup.
I spent a long time this week re-staking all of the tomatoes! They’ve grown SO FAST, they outgrew all their stakes.
Too tall for his stake
Growing up so fast
Luckily, I found some really tall metal stakes in the back. Unluckily, I am not very tall and do not have a mallet. However, by standing on a carefully constructed tower of garden stones I was able to hammer those stakes into the ground (using another garden stone).
In the end, I got all of the stakes in the ground and only a few stares from confused onlookers. At this point, I welcome the attention with a smile and an armful of fresh herbs!
The back ones are well over 5ft.
Our sunflowers are growing so quickly! I swear they grew more than a foot in the span of two days, and I have the selfies to prove it (And one actual picture!). They’re officially taller than I am now.
They grow up so fast :’)
Neck and neck.
Definitely taller, but only just.
WHAT?! They’re giant!
The lavender is attracting so many bees, it’s wonderful!
Our bell pepper has its first fruit, I’m ecstatic! This is just the beginning.
Summer Workday Times
One more thing before I go. . . our summer workday times are official. Join me on Thursdays from 5pm to 7pm and/or on Saturdays from 3pm to 5pm for the Community Garden’s Summer workdays to get your hands dirty and take home some fresh, local, organic produce! Pretty soon I’m going to have more cucumbers and tomatoes than I’ll know what to do with, and I’d love to have some company.
All in all, it’s been a wild week in the garden. I could go on, but I have to take a break from typing to research how much Wood I would need to chuck at a Woodchuck to make it leave the garden in peace!
As we say hello to warmer temperatures and sunnier days, big things are happening in the community garden. This week we harvested, solved a big mystery, planted exciting new things, and more!
First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Mary Rose, this summer’s Community Garden Intern. I’m a rising second year and I became involved with the garden during my first semester and fell in love! I am so excited to grow with the garden this summer.
This week was great for harvesting! We harvested:
Our beets were ready, and plenty of them. Luckily, some volunteers walked by and I was able to distribute a few. Plus I found a recipe for beet chips on Pinterest! I’ll let you know how that turns out.
So I’m harvesting these guys pretty frequently. They’re delicious raw and cooked!
Spinach and Cilantro
The spinach and Cilantro started flowering and needed to go to make room for some new plants.
They´ll be great in salads and so many other recipes.
Once again, it was great that some people walked by so that I could share the harvest.
Mystery Bed Solved
This semester we had a mystery bed, fondly nicknamed the Hunger Games bed by our very own Molly Sall, because it was entirely volunteer (meaning, we didn’t plant the seedlings in it, they “volunteered” themselves).
We decided to let our little tributes duke it out for space in that half of the bed. After a few weeks of fighting, I decided to overhaul this bed and leave all but the strongest volunteers.
Verdict is: Tomatoes and Sunflowers! Congratulations victors, and may the odds be ever in you favor.
These plants are sizing me up.
Ok but who’s Peeta and who’s Katniss?
Planting: Celery, Peppers, Eggplants
As part of my internship, I work at the amazing Bellair Farm. I’ve only been once so far, but I absolutely love it there! After working there last week, I was able to take home some starts for the garden. How cool is that?
This variety of Celery is called Cutting Celery. It´ll be very tasty, but it needs tons of water! The recent weather has really been helping me out.
These peppers range from mild to hot.
Eggplants start out small, but they get big and need a lot of support. It’s recommended that you stake them while they’re young, so I found these stakes for now but I’m going to consult with the Bellair Folks this week. (The smallest stake has been replaced, I just forgot to take a new picture).
Cages and Stakes (No, not the juicy kind)
This week was really important for stakes! With lots of volunteer tomatoes, about 15, I had to think about how to make sure all my plant friends were getting the support they need.
Once tomatoes and eggplants start bearing fruit, they’ll topple right over. That’s why it’s important to use something like a tomato cage or a stake to support them. It’s also important to add this support while they’re still young, because (1) it’s more convenient and (2) you’re less likely to damage the plant.
I ran out of tomato cages, because again, I was counting on four tomato plants, not upwards of 18, so I had to get a little thrifty. These will do for now until I can consult with the Bellair Folks and get some more cages if necessary.
Speaking of stakes…let’s talk about steak! (Yes, now I mean the juicy kind). I’ve just started reading Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. In this controversial read, Keith talks about her own experiences with veganism, which ended after a long and continuing struggle with significant medical issues resulting from her diet, and the misconceptions that are proliferated by both big agriculture and big vegetarian and vegan communities. Keith acknowledges the touchy nature of the subject, and in no way vilifies vegans or vegetarians, but rather explores the sustainability of vegetarianism, or lack thereof.
On a lighter note, one way to be sustainable is to buy local, or better yet, to join me in the community garden and then take home some produce!
It’s unseasonably warm for February, which is bad news for the global climate but good news for the garden!
Our first workday will be this Sunday from 3-5 PM, so Katie and I stopped by the garden to assess what the winter months had done to our little patch of UVA.
What we found? A lot of leaves. Like, so many dead leaves. Piles and piles of dead leaves. But under all that–life!
It was a particularly mild winter, so it’s no surprise some things made it through. But I was pretty impressed by just how much is still there! We’ve got some beautiful curly and Red Russian kale still growing, some lettuces, radishes, and one especially beautiful collard greens plant. Not as exciting, but our cover crop also did exceedingly well.
Red Russian Kale! Still thrivin’!
Curly Kale! So beautiful!
We’ve got some exciting things coming up, too. We’re planning to plant beets, flowers, spinach, and a salad mix. We’re also going to try two different types of cabbage, which will hopefully end up in sauerkraut form via a fermentation workshop later in the semester. We had an awesome planning meeting a few weeks ago and came up with a few things we want to see in the fall.
I can’t begin to say how wonderful it is to return to the Garden after all this time away. Here’s to a wonderful semester, teeming with all things green!