Monday, July 25, 2011

Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, and Squash

the three sisters, in the presidential garden

beans growing around corn 
In many Native American cultures, corn, beans, and squash were always planted together and often known collectively as "the three sisters." A number of different versions of this legend exist, the relevant message to us about the garden remain the same: these three crops are strongest when planted together.

beans growing around corn
How does it work? The corn grows tall, providing a ladder for the bean vine to climb. The squash vines stay relatively low, shading the soil in which the crops are growing and holding in moisture. The shade from the squash also helps prevent weeds. In this way, the squash acts as a living mulch. (These are the same reasons we spread straw around most of our crops in both the Parsons and Presidential Gardens.) Beans (legumes) are nitrogen-fixing plants, and may increase the available nitrogen in the plot for future years.

beans growing around corn
Planting crops that benefit one another is known as "companion planting." Crops can physically support one another, such as the corn and beans above, help repel pests, and help attract beneficial insects. We've planted herbs at the ends of many of the beds in the Parsons Garden with that goal. I'm a big fan of the wikipedia page on companion planting, and the WSG use it pretty regularly to try to determine what should be planted where.

Other versions of the Three Sisters story:
-NC Museum of History
-Web Winds
-First People Legends

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No More Vampires

I know everyone's been really concerned with all the vampires on Williams campus, so you'll be pleased to know I harvested about half of the total garlic yesterday (Wednesday), and the rest will be harvested at the Friday work party tomorrow.

the round garlic bed, about half harvested
So how do you harvest garlic? First, you have to figure out when the correct time to harvest is. It's a sort of tricky process and lots of people have their own policies, but the general recommendation is to wait for the bottom few leaves to turn completely brown, and the top ones to be starting to brown (but still have a fair amount of green). Some say the only way to know for certain is to actually dig up the head, slice it open, and verify that the bulbs fill up the space. If you wait too long, then the bulbs will grow too large and will pop out from the head, and not be store-able.

The actual harvesting is a lot like digging for potatoes. You first loosen the soil, with either a large fork (a potato fork works well) or shovel, being careful not to accidentally break apart the garlic heads with the fork/shovel. I used a shovel and loosened all of the soil first, and then went back through and gently rocked the stalks and pulled out each plant.
wheelbarrow, early in the garlic harvesting

Once garlic is harvested, it should be brought to the shade as quickly as possible. (Soon after I took that picture, I moved the wheelbarrow to the shade.) 

After harvesting, the next step is curing. Fresh garlic can be used right away (and is delicious!), but in order to store/keep for an extended period of time, garlic must be cured (or dried). I decided to wheelbarrow all of the garlic over to Harper House, and set up a curing space on the porch. 

freshly harvested garlic head
round garlic bed, post harvest
So, after finishing the entire round bed (see how full the wheelbarrow is?), I brought the garlic over the Harper House, along with some old window screens we had found in Kellogg House earlier this year and kept in case they came in handy for drying. Garlic can be cured by hanging it in bunches or laying it on screens; the important bit is that air can access all sides of the heads, and consequently all sides can dry fully. The room should also be relatively dry and not sunny. The Harper porch actually has beautiful windows, but we luckily found the blinds and were able to pull them up and shade the room.

After the garlic has cured, we'll be able to store it for up to about four months, though maybe longer or shorter depending on the exact environment in which it is stored. Before storing we'll trim the stalks down to an inch above the head, trim the roots, and shake any remaining dirt free. Never should the garlic heads be washed, so as to prevent early spoiling. We aren't quite sure yet where they'll be stored, but ideally somewhere with a relatively cool, stable temperature.

garlic drying on screen,
screen propped on two trash cans
garlic drying on screen,
screen propped up on
window sill and table

finishing set up: two screens on window sill, one in center
of room. remember, this is only half of the harvest!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetle
Popilla japonica, Scarabaeidae

Japanese Beetles, feasting
Earlier, when I was calling them flea beetles, I was actually a bit confused. I very much meant Japanese beetles. Flea beetles are another pest, which we did have some issues with earlier this year, but are much smaller. Either way, they're the incredibly annoying beetles that are devouring the broccoli plants and munching on a far amount of other plants in the garden. Both are controlled using similar measures: garlic spray, soapy-water spray, hand-picking/removing, etc.

Japanese beetles are recognizable especially because of their tendency to "skeletonize" a leaf, or gnaw away at the fleshy part of the leaf, removing everything other than the veins. Somehow, they sense when other Japanese beetles are already feasting, and come over. Therefore, the more Japanese beetles present, the more are on their way--a viscous cycle.

the damage left from the "skeletonizing"of the broccoli leaves
According to Blue Horizon Farm, in an article about organic control of Japanese beetles: 
According to the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, "When you remove beetles daily by hand from a plant, only about half as many are attracted to that plant compared to those on which beetles are allowed to accumulate." Japanese beetles tend to congregate in clusters that can easily be knocked off of your beloved plants into a bucket of soapy water where they will drown. Squishing them is an option for those of us who feel more aggressive towards them.
Japanese Beetles
So that's what we've been doing: garlic spray (which apparently sometimes works, sometimes doesn't) to try to prevent the initial attraction, and hand-picking and drowning/squishing. Lauren and I decided to cover the main bed they've been attacking (the bed with the majority of the broccoli in it) with row covers to hopefully prevent more from coming. The row covers still allows about 85% of the sunlight and a good amount of water in, so the plants should continue to grow.

On the bright side, the broccoli itself has been growing despite the invasion. (Sorry the picture is sideways, I was having a hard time making it go right side up.) Broccoli, like the signs explain, is ready to harvest when about 8-10 inches across. The head should be cut with a knife, including about 6 inches of the stalk. The leaves should be left (or what leaves the Japanese beetles have left!) and the broccoli plant will continue to produce smaller florets which can be harvested and enjoyed as well. So, our broccoli isn't quite ready for picking, but it's getting really close! Check out this site for more information!

successful broccoli!

Monday, July 11, 2011

What to do with carrot tops (aka carrot greens)?

A lot of the carrots are becoming ready, and with carrots, come the question of what to do with the greens? I always feel a bit guilty if I just compost them because they ARE edible, but not all that delicious in large quantities. I've taken to chopping the leaves very finely and putting them in stir-fries and soups, and composting the chewy stalks. As long as they're finely chopped, they taste fairly good when cooked and mixed up with other things. (Not a glowing recommendation, I know, but try it yourself! Some people love them.) Also, if you have any goats, chickens, cows, rabbits, etc. they make great feed. Here are some other ideas I found when poking around the internet:  *this one has the most suggestions

Last Friday work party we finally got around to staking/caging the tomatoes. They'd been growing beautifully, but sort of flopping all over the place, and collapsing around the beds... We also transplanted a few of the beautiful volunteer tomato plants (volunteers mean they grew from fallen seeds/tomatoes last year, and we didn't need to plant them this year, and were a bit surprised to see them come up) from one of the beds over to one where they'd have a bit more space. 

using extra PBC pipe as stakes

Everything is growing beautifully. Here are a few pictures, just to admire the growth:

beets, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, arugula

yellow swiss chard, carrots, and lots more

view from the street (so many people stop to look)

We've been continuing to have some food preservation adventures. This past week, the Youth Center kids helped pick a lot of red currants, growing in the two herb beds (closest to Parsons House). First, we picked all the berries from the bushes:

red currants on one of the (two) bushes in the Parsons Garden

currants in a yogurt container,
after the Youth Center kids had nicely de-stemmed them!
We decided just to make refrigerator jam, instead of properly preserving/canning it, because there weren't that many currants. We also used about half apples and currants, which made it a bit sweeter, and also stretched the currants further.

the jam :)
ingredients: currants, apples (peeled & diced), sugar, cinnamon, cloves.
blended together with an immersion blender,
and boiled for about 10 minutes to let set.

After picking the currants and spraying for flee beetles, the kids from the Youth Center, my sister, and I had a "vegetable-off." Never played? You need at least three people, two of whom pair together, and the third names a vegetable. The two others then have to act like that vegetable-complete with noises-and the others judge to determine the winner.

And finally, some beautiful purple cabbage, kale, and beet greens:

taken to Paresky, for use in dinner

Keep harvesting, keep recording, and keep enjoying the splendors of summer!

Friday, July 1, 2011

when the sun comes out

It's finally stopped raining so continuously, and we've been able to enjoy some great work days in the garden. This past Friday, we thought it was going to rain the entire time, but it held off long enough for us to do some serious weeding. A few weeds aren't particularly problematic, but when weeds become prolific (like they were) they begin to compete with the plants we want for physical space, soil nutrients, water, and light. So, we pull them up. Thanks to the awesome folks who came to June 24 work-party for excellent weeding of all sixteen of the raised beds.

Amelia with a giant pile of greens, and the awesome weeding crew

Garden beets! Aren't they gorgeous?

Stir-fry with garden greens, zucchini (local, but not ours), onion, and garden sage

Veggies about to get roasted

We had to move the stir-fry to a giant pot instead of the cast iron frying pan, which wasn't big enough to hold all of the chard and beet greens we had. 

We also started a garden program with the Williamstown Youth Center, and now every Wednesday for about an hour or two, kids in the Youth Center summer program get to come over and help in the garden. This past Wednesday one girl weeded the entire round garlic bed:



And they've finally started construction over at Kellogg. It's weird, and a bit sad, to walk/bike by and see the bulldozed, empty space:

Check out the new documents linked on the right side of the page, especially the information on the different types of greens we're growing in the garden. Keep harvesting, and just don't forget to record what you take. Happy 4th!