Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Number One Rule For Vegetable Gardening - Make It Easy On Yourself

Photo by Binyamin Mellish from Pexels

Make it easy on yourself. 

That’s the number one rule in my book of gardening notes to self. When garden work becomes more of a chore than a pleasure, you’ll regret that you started. When the hardship is greater than the reward, you’ll likely become disheartened and walk away. Disappointment and a twinge of guilt might haunt you. To avoid those outcomes, I’ve a few suggestions.

Choose the right site.

The wrong location will doom you, either to failure or to extra labor. Keep in mind that:

  • The location should be convenient;
  • Vegetable gardens require plenty of sun – 6 to 8 hours per day;
  • Native soil should be well-drained, deep, fertile, free from rocks and other obstructions;
  • A reliable source of water should be nearby.

Any of those conditions may not be perfect in your case. They can be mitigated somewhat, but that takes work. Do the best you can.

Plot the right size.

The plot size can be determined:

  • By your surroundings; 
  • By your available time and interest;
  • By your age or energy level;
  • By your goals.

If you live in an apartment, your garden might be limited to a few planters on your balcony, unless you have access to a community garden area.

Early enthusiasm for your project can easily exceed available time, and succumb to waning interest, the constraints of age and energy. Studying seed catalogs in January is a lot like shopping Sears Wishbook before Christmas; you gotta have it all. Your plot size shouldn’t exceed your personal resources. Get real!

For most of us, the goal is pleasure, a large measure of satisfaction, and some tasty food for the table. A small garden will usually suffice, and should be manageable.

If your goal is self-sufficiency, you have a long row to hoe, so to speak. That’s a subject best left for another time.

Select the right plants.

The right plants should:

  • Be easy to grow;
  • Require NO fungicides, and pesticides (IMO);
  • Appeal to your taste.

It might take a little research to determine what will be easy to grow in your area. You’ll need to know:

  • Your climate zone;
  • Your atmospheric conditions;
  • Your neighbors’ successes and failures.

Climate zone is important. For example, if winters are cold and summers are short, you’ll need cold-hardy plants, and summer crops that only require short growing seasons. Check out the USDA Interactive Climate Zone map.

Atmospheric conditions can include such factors as rain, drought and humidity.  There's not much you can do about them. Plant diseases and crop failure are very often caused by such. Plant selections must accommodate them.

There’s no substitute for visiting with your gardening neighbors. Those who’ve lived in the area for long should be able to give you an earful, or you can just peer over their fences to see what’s looking good.

My advice is to plant what you know will be easy to grow. In south Georgia that would be okra, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), Seminole pumpkins, purple hull peas and corn. (For real success, study your area for edible weeds.) But if you’re filled with inexhaustible hope in the face of disappointment, grow whatever you want.

There’s no accounting for taste. You and your family will like certain vegetables, or you won’t. For example, my family doesn’t care much for okra, though I disagree. My wife thinks Jerusalem artichokes are weeds, though I disagree. Don’t bother planting crops that few will eat.

Before you begin planning your vegetable garden, remember my number one rule; make it easy on yourself.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

It's Seed Catalog Time

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

It's seed catalog time! Crocuses, winter aconite, cornelian cherry and robins tell us that spring is near. But seed catalogs in winter are earlier harbingers. From the mailbox, they tend to migrate throughout the house, first to the kitchen table, then to the bedside table, and finally to the reading basket beside the commode.

A gardening friend asked me whether I had perused all the new issues. She was excited about the AAS winners and other new plants on the market, especially the grafted tomatoes. (Tomato grafting is a process by which favorite old varieties are spliced onto new, disease resistant rootstock.) I confessed that I had not, though not for want of desire. There are just too many to investigate.

As we considered grafted tomatoes, my mind wandered to recall names of some old-fashioned varieties. (To be polite, I didn't let on that my mind was wandering.) There's Arkansas Traveler, Beefsteak, Kimberly, Brandywine, Bull's Heart, Ox Heart, Italian Plum, Mortgage Lifter, to name a few. I don't know why such varieties were abandoned. Perhaps varieties with better taste and disease resistance were bred and widely accepted. Perhaps newer varieties were highly promoted and popularized disproportionately to their worth. It may be that tomato grafting will allow some of those heirloom varieties to be enjoyed again. Johnny's Selected Seeds is a good source.

If you would like to explore the world of heirloom tomatoes, check out Gary Ibsen's Tomato Fest. I've had no experience with the company, but it looks promising. Browsing their web site has whetted my appetite for home-grown tomatoes like the ones in my grandmother's garden.

I've always had a nostalgic place in my heart for whatever good that was lost. It was touched again one fall when we came upon a roadside stand with a pile of Kershaw melons and Candy Roaster squash. I hadn't grown any for over 25 years. It was as though I had found treasure. We stopped and bought fewer than I actually wanted, but all that we could handle for a few weeks. Of course, we kept the seed for planting in spring.

If Kershaws, Candy Roasters and other heirlooms interest you, check out Seed Saver's Exchange. Diane and Kent Whealy founded the non-profit organization in 1975. I learned about Seed Saver's Exchange in the late '70s. Though I haven't been involved as a member, I've appreciated their work and I recommend Seed Saver's Exchange to anyone who seems interested.

So, during seed catalog time, I wouldn't be surprised if your mind is wandering and wondering if you can make room in your garden for heirloom vegetables and fruits. Of course you can.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Who's afraid of the big, bad coywolf?

Coywolf hybrid  

There was a time when wolves were generally feared. They roamed wild across continents. Travelers feared for their own safety. Herders feared for their flocks. As marauders, wolves were ensconced in history, legend, and popular stories.

They were hunted relentlessly. Now these shy and reclusive creatures are seldom encountered, except in remote wilderness areas.
Not so with their relative - the coyote. While shy, coyotes are not so withdrawn, more comfortable with life at the edge of human civilization, or closer. 
Sometimes their paths cross. The wolf whistles. The other appears coy and blushes. Animal instincts take over. They are soon the proud parents of little coywolves.
This happens more often than one might expect. It's believed that most of the "coyotes" seen in the eastern North America are actually coywolves. Not only that. They are probably hybrids of wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), and may number in the millions.
Not surprisingly, coywolves will possess characteristics of their parents. This makes them very adaptable and wide-ranging. They've been spotted as far south as Virginia. No doubt their range will increase.
Have you seen a coyote by the road? Did one just cross your yard? It was probably a coywolf.
What is to be done if coywolves have been spotted in your area? Should they be feared? A little research on the internet, and common sense, reveals the following:
  • If one crosses your path, give it plenty of space.
  • Avoid physical contact. Coywolves are wild animals. As such they can attack, and injure or kill. They can also carry diseases.
  • Avoid threatening postures if one crosses your path. Do NOT make eye contact. Do NOT turn and run. DO back away slowly.
  • Remove food sources.
    • Clean up around dumpsters and trash cans.
    • Avoid feeding pets outdoors.
    • Secure small or weak farm animals indoors at night, including poultry and young livestock.
    • Bring pets indoors at night.
  • Supervise children when they're playing outdoors, or have them play in fenced enclosures. Warn youngsters against approaching them.
  • Notify animal control authorities.
Be cautious; be safe. 

For further reading:

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