Sunday, September 22, 2013

Slugs Make a Come Back

At the start of the growing season, it's typical to be infiltrated by an overwhelming population of snails and slugs.  This season especially as it was rather damp -- something that little guys just love!  In the five seasons the OG has been in existence, I can't ever remember having them return towards the end of the season.

For the past few weeks we've been trying hard to keep our fall crops from being eaten!  Our fall Broccoli, which had a horrible spring season, is looking to have a not so good fall season.  All but perhaps 1 or 2 of our plants might actually make it.  The others look like mere spindles as the slugs have consumed all of the leaves.  Our fall planting of Bac Choy is being nibbled on by a handful of slugs as well.  In the spring, our bac choy is decimated by flea beetles -- so we figured
we'd try a fall planting when the flea beetles have gone.  Our Kale that isn't under the insect nets is being eaten by cabbage worms and slugs as well!

Thankfully the weather is starting to turn cool, and the slugs are dwindling in number as are the cabbage moths.  Another casualty of slugs, our pumpkins.  We harvested all of our pumpkins for the season (expect them at this week's farm stand!) - which weren't fantastic in numbers thanks to the spring cohort of slugs eating the blossoms on the vines!

Goods news: our sugar snap peas are coming in beautifully and will be at the farm stand on Wednesday - they sell out fast so I'd be smart about when you plan to swing by ;)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Our First Season of Okra!

Each season the garden crew likes to experiment with a few new crops in the garden.  Over the past, it's been a quite successful and delicious adventure.  These "new" crops have become staples over the years in our garden map: cantaloupe, watermelon and eggplant to name a few.  This season we decided to give Okra a try!
What exactly is Okra you might be asking?  It's a common vegetable in the South with a flavor that could be compared to eggplant but with a different....unusual texture.  It can be used to make Gumbo, soups, marinated and put on a salad, grilled or even pickled!

Growing the Okra was relatively easy.  Since it's a southern vegetable, as you'd imagine, it does best in warmer climates.  It prefers warm, fertile soil with decent levels of nitrogen and lots of sun.   Okra reaches maturity after about 55-60 days....If you remember, we had a pretty wet and cool first half of the season.  This really impacted the growth rate of our okra plants -- doubling the length of maturity.  This past week was our first harvest of Okra!

The plant is in the mallow family, related to the beautiful hibiscus.  We weren't aware of this until we saw these gorgeous, delicate blossoms on the Okra plants.  About 2-3 days after the blossoms appear, the okra starts to form.  It's best to harvest okra when it's about 2-3 inches, and make sure to be good about continually harvesting the pods, as this will allow the plant to keep producing.

We're not sure how much longer we'll have Okra at the Farm Stands as the temperatures start to cool, so if you are interested in trying it, make sure to swing by on Wednesday 11:30 - 2:00 in front of the Chapel!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Attack of Downy Mildew!

Well it has happened again, for the second year in a row our gorgeous beds of Basil have been overcome by an infestation of the dreaded Downy Mildew!  It literally happened overnight.  We came down to the garden Thursday morning and discovered the fungus on 2 of our Basil beds.  By Friday, we found it on our 3rd bed of Basil as well as some of the basil we planted as companions around our cucumber and tomato beds.

Downy mildew is a "new" problem in the US, with the first reported cases in 2007.  Since then, the pathogen has spread quite rapidly, especially as more people are recognizing the signs.  One of the main signs of an infestation is a yellowing of the leaves, which resembles a nutritional deficiency.  The other main sign of downy mildew is a sporulation of the fungus on the lower leaf surface, which is the dark fuzzy stuff we had observed.  The pathogen, Peronospora belbahrii, can be transmitted through the air, or also through unknowingly contaminated seeds, which is likely responsible for the rapid spread of the pathogen throughout the world.  It appears that sweet basil may be more susceptible to downy mildew than other more ornamental varieties.

Unfortunately, we had to pull up all our basil and put it in bags to be placed in the trash dumpster (composting it would allow the spores to travel around - which we do not want).  We had a wonderful crew of OVE volunteers Friday afternoon helping us take care of all the basil - though it was a very sad thing to have to do, it was very necessary.

We're hoping that our remaining basil around our back Pepper bed is still okay - if not -- our basil is done for the season at the Farm Stands.  We will however have some delicious Delicata Squash, okra, watermelon and cantaloupe in addition to all our usual veggies!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Art of Harvesting Watermelons

A couple years ago, a student asked if we could grow watermelons in the garden.  Always looking to experiment with new veggies and fruits in the garden, we decided to give it a try!  Since then, we have never tasted watermelon so mouth-watering delicious!  If you haven't had an organic watermelon grown locally, you haven't truly tasted a watermelon... in our humble opinion.

Watermelons do take a bit of work to grow,
especially in northern Vermont.  You need rich soil, you need warm conditions.  On top of all the hard work that goes into growing it, it's even trickier to determine the exact right time to harvest it.  There are four methods to use to help determine if it is time to harvest or not: (1) when the tendril nearest the fruit has turned brown and dry, (2) if the ground spot has turned from white to yellow, (3) when the blossom end of the fruit has become soft, or (4) if you knock on the fruit and it sounds "hollow." 

We'll tell you right now that the knocking method is quite difficult to follow, what does a "hollow" knock on a watermelon sound like any way?  What we have had the best luck with is utilizing the brown tendril method.  Two Fridays ago, we tested our first sugar baby watermelon of the season (its tendril was perfectly dry and brown).  It was a deep pink inside, perfectly sweet and juicy.  We are still waiting on the others to follow.  Hopefully within the next couple of weeks we'll lots of watermelon at the Farm Stand!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pesky Pests Are Still Around

Can you believe that August is almost over?  We can't!  The cool temps at night, the sound of crickets that greet us each morning in the OG and the fact that we've been planting for our Fall crops make us think it's fall time.  It also makes us forget that we still have pests to keep an eye out for in the garden.  We were reminded of this when we noticed some oh so lovely cabbage worm droppings in our Kale this past week.  As we looked more closely over a couple of our Kale plants, we discovered the little guys!  They were certainly well fed.

Cabbage worms blend in well with many of the
veggies they like to chomp on.  At a quick glance, you'd think they were part of the veins on the leaves.  Thankfully, early in the season, we put up insect nets over a couple of our Kale beds.  We wanted to test these nets to see if they would actually prevent cabbage worms from getting to the Kale.  The idea behind the nets is
that it prevents the white cabbage moth from laying its eggs on the Kale leaves.  It worked!  The Kale underneath the nets had no sign of cabbage worms, while the Kale outside obviously did!

Other pests still in the garden include squash bugs (which we found in a curled up cucumber leaf) and cucumber beetles (on our delicata squash).  They were small in number though.  One pest that we typically get mid-August, the dreaded Tomato Hornworm, was no where to be found this year!!  Perhaps because the Garden crew really pruned all of our tomatoes (a lot of leaf spot on the lower branches but also to try to prevent late blight).

In other news this week in the OG, we sampled one of our Sugar Baby watermelon to see if it was ready yet.  It was!  Expect to see some of these and perhaps our Cantaloupe at upcoming Farm Stands =)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Another Round of Planting

It's mid-August and the garden is at its peak of production, as are most gardens this time of year.  Often, many might not think about planting this time of year.  Such a missed opportunity to get another round of harvest before winter pays us a visit!

This year in the OG, we're paying more attention to Fall Planting.  The peak soil temperatures of 85 have been going down with the cooler nights.  We're at about 65 degrees in the soil, perfect to get those fall seeds and plants into the soil!  This
past week we planted Broccoli, Snap Peas, Beets, Spinach, Arugula, Radishes, Pac Choy and Red Russian Kale.  A couple weeks ago we planted a couple more beds of lettuce and another variety of Kale.  When planning for a fall harvest, it's important to remember the amount of time it takes for a vegetable to mature (will you get a few harvests out of the plant before winter cuts its life short?), where you are planting it (was something previously planted there and if so, can you plant what you want to plant there are should it be somewhere else) and growing conditions (is the soil temperature at the right germination temperature, are the evening and day time temps conducive to growing).

Although we focused on getting ready for the Fall, there is still plenty to do with our main summer crops in the garden.  We set up a hoop house over a section of our zucchini plants (we started a second round of zucchini mid-summer since our first round did so-so).  We're hoping to speed up growing so that we can have a few harvests of these guys.  We're also waiting on our large tomatoes to turn red, the delicata squash to mature and our gorgeous watermelon and cantaloupe to ripen -- keep your eyes out for these treats at our upcoming Farm Stands every Wednesday 11:30-1:15 in front of the SMC Chapel!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Field Trip!

Now that many varieties in the organic garden at Saint Michael's College are well established, we took the opportunity this past week to visit and learn more about the food and farming industry in Vermont. This past Wednesday we took a trip to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Our first stop brought us to Sterling College in Craftsbury Common. On the way home, we stopped at High Mowing Seeds in Wolcott.

Sterling College is a small working college
focused on sustainability. Food and farming ties into every aspect of students' lives at Sterling. While academically rigorous as well, Sterling provides students with hands on work experience.

High Mowing Seeds gave us the opportunity to see first hand many of the techniques we've applied to the garden at St. Mike's. Of course these techniques at High Mowing Seeds had been transferred to a much larger operation. It was apparent that practicality and efficiency becomes necessary when farming is a livelihood.

The trial fields at High Mowing Seeds provide a testing site for varieties of veggies, herbs and flowers, production of seeds, and more seeds, and fresh produce (the food bank will harvest many of the veggies from the trial feeds after the seeds have been taken). High Mowing Seeds provides
incredibly reliable non-GMO organic seeds, but is also a great resource for their customers. They provide public information on growing and seed saving  techniques specific to many different varieties and they also have tours and hands-on workshops throughout the season.

These two organizations are just two products of the progressive food and farming culture present in Vermont.  This is a trip the garden crew (and other interested students) have been taking for the past three years.  Learning about and visiting these 2 places has been both an educational and inspiration trip for us all. They also demonstrated just some of the possibilities associated with the topic. Possibilities  that are increasing even at SMC as the organic garden operation continues to gain momentum and support