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Gardening Tips: Landscaping To Attract Pollinators & Predators

by: countrycat

Wed Jun 10, 2015 at 08:12:10 AM CDT

Vegetable gardeners know that we can't make it without pollinators. Honey bees are under stress from Colony Collapse Disorder, but they aren't the only pollinators at work on flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, and row crops. An astonishing variety of native pollinators work mostly unnoticed to make our food crops possible.

They need your help, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service offers tips on attracting pollinators to your garden, offering them shelter, and providing habitat. Review their recommendations at the link or download a PDF version of the brochure.

One important recommendation: limit your use of pesticides!

Pesticides can kill more than the target pest. Some pesticide residues can kill pollinators for several days after the pesticide is applied. Pesticides can also kill natural predators, which can lead to even worse pest problems. Consider the following when managing pests in your garden:

  • Try removing individual pests by hand if possible (wearing garden gloves)
  • Encourage native predators with a diverse garden habitat
  • Expect and accept a little bit of pest activity
  • If you must use a pesticide, choose one that is the least toxic to non-pest species, does not persist on vegetation, and apply it in the evening when most pollinators are not as active. Read and follow label directions carefully.

One easy way to control garden pests is with landscaping. Encourage predators to live in and around your garden.  Remember: all bugs aren't created equal. Some eat your plants, but others eat the bugs that eat your plants. Bird predators can be a mixed bag. We fight a constant battle with those winged consumers of figs, blackberries, blueberries, etc., but that is balanced by their insect consumption. Review this list of beneficial garden birds.

With this in mind, the National Wildlife Federation has a program to certify your garden for wildlife. This program is part of the NWF's million pollinator garden challenge.

Pollinators are responsible for 1 out of 3 bites of food we take each day, and yet pollinators are at critical point in their own survival. Many reasons contribute to their recent decline. We know for certain, however, that more nectar and pollen sources provided by more flowering plants and trees will help improve their health and numbers. Increasing the number of pollinator-friendly gardens and landscapes will help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across the country.

The above photo is of the end-of-season garden bounty from a few years ago - all grown without the use of pesticides. In the past 4 days, I've harvested over 14 pounds of squash. How is your garden growing this year?


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Annual Heirloom Seed Swap In Huntsville - January 30th

by: countrycat

Wed Jan 28, 2015 at 08:31:47 AM CST

North Alabama gardeners with heirloom & open-pollinated seeds to share will gather in Huntsville Friday night (1/30) for an event filled with food, drink, live music, seed exchanges, and information. This event is sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association.

From the Facebook event page:

3rd Annual Community Seed Celebration on Friday, January 30th at the Church of the Nativity in downtown Huntsville.

Food and drink provided by local restaurants, breweries, and wineries. Doors will open at 6pm, and the keynote speaker will begin at 7:15.

A donation of $0-$30 is requested -- in the spirit of community, no one will be turned away, but please give as much as you can. The event is a benefit for the Sand Mountain Seed Bank, based in Albertville.

Bring your saved seeds to share! Take seeds home for your 2014 garden! Seed Bank reps will be on hand to teach about heirloom seeds and seed saving techniques.

There will be live music.

This event is hosted by the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association, in partnership with the The Greene Street Market at Nativity. More information attennesseevalleycga@gmail.com or at 256.743.0742.

Church address is 208 Eustis Ave SE, and the event will be held in Ridley Hall (on the right, if facing the church from Eustis).

It's a terrific way to network with other gardeners. Last year, people where sharing seeds for flowers, herbs, & vegetables. The only restriction is that the seeds should be open-pollinated (meaning they're not hybrids so the next generation of plants will grow true from the seeds).

The Sand Mountain Seed Bank is doing some great work:

The Sand Mountain Seed Bank is a private organization run by Charlotte Hagood and Dove Stackhouse with the assistance of Dove’s husband, Russell. Operating on a shoestring budget these women have done yeoman’s work in preserving hundreds of plant varieties on the verge of extinction.

Talking to Dove about these plants gives one a sense of the urgency of the task. Se said, "We have gone from relying on hundreds of varieties of potatoes to four." She sees this as a very disturbing trend for several reasons.

Every year seed companies reject the cornucopia of plant species available and select only a handful of plants bred to tolerate chemical fertilizers, pesticides and provide long shelf-life.  If you look into a typical seed catalog you will see only four or five varieties of beans listed while there are hundreds out there," Dove pointed out.

If these rejected varieties are not used, they eventually disappear. She noted each of these species existed because they provided some strength or advantage in a specific situation.

It's hard to imagine that something previous generations did as a matter of course - save seeds - has become somewhat of a political act.  Monsanto is a corporate "person" who takes it as seriously as bank robbery. It's a big win for genetic diversity that the giant corporation has no control over open-pollinated seeds. Do your part with your own "Victory over Monsanto" garden.


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Heirloom Seed Swap In Huntsville January 31

by: countrycat

Sat Jan 25, 2014 at 15:00:00 PM CST

This is a different kind of swap meet: instead of old tools & other paraphanalia, heirloom seed enthusiasts will gather in Huntsville January 31 to meet, eat, learn, listen to music, & swap their saved heirloom and open-pollinated seeds.

The Second Annual Seed Celebration is sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association and Greene Street Market at Nativity.

Food and drink provided by local restaurants, breweries, and wineries. Doors will open at 6pm, and the keynote speaker will begin at 7:15.

A donation of $0-$30 is requested -- in the spirit of community, no one will be turned away, but please give as much as you can. The event is a benefit for the Sand Mountain Seed Bank, based in Albertville.

Bring your saved seeds to share! Take seeds home for your 2014 garden! Seed Bank reps will be on hand to teach about heirloom seeds and seed saving techniques.

Live music by the Sandy River Ramblers!

Church address is 208 Eustis Ave SE, and the event will be held in Ridley Hall (on the right, if facing the church from Eustis).

Last year's event was a great evening, and this year's event sounds even better.  It's a terrific chance to meet other gardeners and pick up some new seed varieties for your home garden.

Remember: saving seeds is a surprisingly political act!


Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Saturday Open Thread & Garden Blogging

by: countrycat

Sat Jul 20, 2013 at 09:46:49 AM CDT

A very, very busy couple of weeks in the news has coincided with a very, very busy couple of weeks in the garden!  And, while news commentary can wait - fresh berries and vegetables can NOT.  How are your gardens growing & what's on your mind today?

Here's what 6 dozen ears of corn when you shuck it, silk it, cut it, fry it, and prepare it for freezing.  I have no photo of what my back feels like this morning after completing that task, so I'll just say "OUCH!"

garden corn

The berries are GREAT this year!  Our chickens have enjoyed the lower berries, while graciously leaving the higher harvest for the humans - and the cardinals.

summer berries

In a few headlines that caught my interest, although blogging time was woefully limited, we have this:

Back to the garden, campers!  


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Saturday Gardening Blog & Open Thread: When Saving Seeds Gets You Sued

by: countrycat

Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 12:00:00 PM CST

Who would have thought that the time-honored way to garden and create varieties perfectly suited to your local area can land you in court?  In a report titled "Seed Giants vs US Farmers" (52-page PDF), we learn that corporate giant Monsanto has filed 144 lawsuits against 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses as of January 2013.  Their "crime" was.... saving seeds.Sunflower

Homan McFarling has been farming here all his life, growing mostly soybeans along with a little corn. After each harvest, he puts some seed aside.

''Every farmer that ever farmed has saved some of his seed to plant again,'' he said.

In 1998, Mr. McFarling bought 1,000 bags of genetically altered soybean seeds, and he did what he had always done. But the seeds, called Roundup Ready, are patented. When Monsanto, which holds the patent, learned what Mr. McFarling had sown, it sued him in federal court in St. Louis for patent infringement and was awarded $780,000.
If the appeals court rules against him, said Mr. McFarling, 61, he will be forced into bankruptcy and early retirement.

This isn't just a matter of  tradition.  Buying seed every year costs more, further stressing the budgets of farmers.  When farmers have to buy every year, there's no incentive for seed suppliers to hold prices down.  According to the report, the cost to plant 1 acre of soybeans rose 325% and corn seed prices rose 259% between 1995 and 2011.

At the same time, genetic and crop diversity has cratered: 86% of corn and 93% of soybeans grown in the US are genetically-engineered strains.

There are many reasons that people protest GMOs (genetically-modified seeds & foods) - perceived safety & nutrition problems is one of the most common.  But lack of genetic diversity is very troubling:  if we lose the heirloom strains that developed over time and were bred for specific traits - from size to disease resistance to heat or cold tolerance - then we're putting our entire future food supply at risk.

Even now, in our garden planning, we're having to try new varieties of tomatoes & eggplant because the seeds we've saved for years struggled to thrive in the much hotter summers that we've had during the last few years.  Fortunately, we have a choice of new varieties to try in our home garden, but large-scale farms aren't so lucky.

Several years ago, we had an LIA community member ask why a political blog bothered with a regular feature on home gardening.  My reply then was that home food production and food policy was political.  And it still is!

On the flip, I've included some links for seed companies that sell open-pollinated seeds - many of which are heirloom varieties.  You can save the seeds of an open-pollinated variety and have the same traits as their "parent" plants.  This is NOT true for hybrid varieties.

Learn more about saving seeds and the importance of preserving diversity in this article about the Sand Mountain Seed Bank


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Gardening Open Thread -- What Activists Can Learn From Onions

by: mooncat

Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 18:26:50 PM CST

Spring is just around the corner and if you haven't been studying seed catalogs/seed packets you must not be a gardener.  WARNING: Read the seed catalog descriptions with the same skepticism you would apply to political promises. 

For example, vigorous means it will take over your property, taste like no other means it probably won't taste anything like you expect and, as like as not, melt in your mouth is a warning to expect soft fruit.  Crack resistant sounds good, right?  But it could just as well mean tough-skinned, which doesn't sound nearly so attractive.

Our seeds are already in hand, including onion and leek transplants from a family business in Texas, Dixondale Farms.  I've ordered from these folks for years and the service and plants are always excellent -- they even offer organic fertilizer and weed and feed options, important since onions are heavy feeders and not good competitors.  This year I ordered a bundle of leeks, nominally 60 transplants.  Out of that bundle, we planted 88 leeks and still have a bunch left over.  They were similarly generous with the onions we ordered -- plenty for all our beds and some left over for sharing with neighbors. 

Which brings me to the point of this post, the YouTube video from the Dixondale Farms home page about how to select onions to thrive where you live.  As with so many things in life, a little basic knowledge and planning are absolutely essential for success.


See, if you're an onion, priorities change dramatically when the number of sunny hours (day length) hits a genetically determined magic number.  This magic number varies from variety to variety, of course.  Anyone who wants to grown onions, as opposed to onion tops had better know both the day length for their locale and the magic number for the onions they intend to plant because, when that number rolls around, those skinny, green leaved plants will absolutely stop making leaves and start making bulbs.  Doesn't matter if they have 3 leaves or 13 when their number comes up, those onions are shifting into bulb gear.  There's no turning back at that point, even if they don't have enough leaves to turn out a decent bulb. 

Plant a short day variety where the days get long early and it will start bulbing before it gets enough leaves to ever amount to anything.  Plant a long day onion where the days never get long, it will be all leaves forevermore, no bulb.  Get it right and life is good, get it wrong and you'll be left wondering why your crop is dismal.   

The same thing can happen to a political or social movement if the timing isn't right.  A longstanding advocacy program that attracts followers, but never quite closes the deal to turn that advocacy into policy change is much like a long day onion planted in south Florida.  It's all top and no bulb, no matter how long you wait.  Or the reverse can happen, if a movement jumps prematurely into a policy fight before their organization is ready and suffers a crushing loss -- they needed more leaves in place before trying to bear fruit.  Balance is critical, for both onions and activists.  All the parts need to be in place when the magic number comes up.

What I find rewarding these days is that progressive groups seem to be getting this right more and more often.  Progressive messages on economics (47%!!) and women's issues -- especially reproductive rights -- were big winners in the last election.  After decades of politicians on the left being afraid to talk about abortion, it suddenly morphed into a losing issue for the right.  I'm convinced that the right is also poised to discover their knee-jerk support of the NRA's agenda will become a losing proposition going forward, just like their anti-immigrant rhetoric has become.

We've finally grown a sufficient number of progressive leaves to start turning out policy changes -- progressive bulbs, if you will.  Let's make the most of this growing season! 

Discuss :: (9 Comments)

Calling Alabama Seed Savers! Seed Exchange Event in Huntsville Feb. 1st at 6pm

by: countrycat

Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 12:30:00 PM CST

If an open-pollinated seed swap meet sounds like fun, this is the event for you! On Friday, Feb. 1 at 6pm, the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association and other groups are sponsoring a "community seed celebration and exchange" in Huntsville.Alabama Seed Celebration and Seed Exchange

The event features food & drink, the opportunity to share seeds with other local gardeners, and a special presentation from the Sand Mountain Seed Bank.  It's free, but donations are "greatly appreciated" according to the event flier.

Event details:

February 1st, 6pm
Ridley Hall, Church of the Nativity
208 Eustis Ave., SE
Huntsville, AL  35801

We have a lot of dedicated gardeners at LIA and have even conducted our own online Alabama heirloom seed exchange here at the blog.  The Sand Mountain Seed Bank is doing some great work:

The Sand Mountain Seed Bank is a private organization run by Charlotte Hagood and Dove Stackhouse with the assistance of Dove’s husband, Russell. Operating on a shoestring budget these women have done yeoman’s work in preserving hundreds of plant varieties on the verge of extinction.
While my grandmother‘s generation realized the varieties they saved were well adapted to their particular area, tasted good and were free with a little work, they did not realize their efforts were important for another reason. Plant geneticists are telling us that by allowing the huge variety of garden plants to become extinct and becoming totally reliant upon a small number of varieties we are leaving ourselves open to a food catastrophe. The earth’s normal climate changes or the rise of a particular disease or pest can wipe out some varieties of a species while not harming others. If those other varieties do not exist, we have nothing to fall back on. Many of those varieties took hundreds of years to develop and cannot be replicated in decades — let alone a few months.

Not everyone is a gardener - but everybody eats! And we should all be concerned about seed diversity.  This should be a very interesting and informative event.

Download a large copy of the event flier.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Canning & Preserving Blogging or ... I Built This

by: mooncat

Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 17:03:06 PM CDT

This is what I've done with summer 2012 and the bounty of our garden (and area farmers).  Some call it food security, others call it a waste of effort.  We call it darned good eats, from now 'til next summer. 

          2012-08-18_19-57-43_107 copy

From mid June to the present, I (with a little help) been busy turning fresh fruits and veggies, both grown by us and purchased from local growers, into canned goods, preserves, pickles, jams, jellies and juice.  Of course, this is only part of our stash -- there are more shelves around the corner and then there's the whole freezer which is stuffed to the gills.

To those who say why go to the trouble of making pickles when the grocery store has plenty for $2.50 or so, I say why do you go to a concert when you can buy the CD for $15 or the song you like for 99 cents?  It is not the same.  Besides, the grocery store doesn't have Aunt Lydia's bread and butter pickles, or my Mother's 14 day sweets.

   Tomatoes   Tomato Juice 

And honestly, turning bowls of tomatoes into bottles of tomato juice, jars of pizza sauce, pasta sauce, tomato-basil jam or even pickled tomatoes is an activity I find tremendously rewarding.  The food will nourish our bodies and the process nourishes my soul.

I'm tempted to say I Built This, as the Republicans are so fond of doing lately, but I must acknowledge that a lot of other people helped.  Herding old cats, for one, who helped with the growing, picking and even turned a hand to preserving when not busy at work keeping a roof over our head.  Then there are the other people, including my Mother, who grew items we put up and the good folks at Ball and Kerr who built the jars and lids and the workers who built our pressure cookers -- do I need to give credit to the folks at GE who built our range?  What about TVA for making sure we have electricity to cook this food?  I certainly have to give a big hand to the taxpayer funded folks at the USDA Extension Service who developed and tested all those recipes.  They have provided generations of American families with safe instructions for preserving food at home, and it's been a darned good public investment. 

We literally could not have built this lovely home food bank without a host of other people -- and public entities.  I did the last mile's worth of the work, but like most everything else, this wouldn't have been possible without all the things someone else built first.

What have you built lately?

Discuss :: (11 Comments)

Zucchini Season ... I Mean Summer .... Is Officially Here

by: mooncat

Thu Jun 21, 2012 at 12:19:15 PM CDT

ZucchiniYes, I know we normally do garden posts only on the weekend, but it's Zucchini Season!

Yesterday was the summer solstice and the first official day of summer.  In these days of global warming, that means Zucchini Season is upon us NOW.  In the old days it would be mid-July before the abundance of long green squash lurking under spotted leaves would make us dread checking the garden ... and it would be August before we started stuffing the big ones in groundhog burrows or throwing them at rabbits.  This year the first zucchini graced our breakfast plates in early June (zucchini frittata - yum!) and we're already searching for non-traditional ways to use more squash.

And finding some good ones, too.  Midweek or not, I thought this would be a good time to share, just in case some of y'all also have more zucchini than you can eat fried, stuffed or grilled. 

Zucchini Cakes with Mushroom Ragout.  I thought the cakes looked a little bland so I added half a chopped onion and 1/4 tsp ground thyme to the batter.  Then I sliced the other half of the onion and added it to the ragout.  It's seriously good eats and not like squash at all.  Savvy Suzy takes the same recipe and uses tomato sauce instead of roasted peppers in the ragout.  We thought it would also be good with a chile verde sauce or maybe even good, old fashioned, chile.  Especially on cold winter evenings.  Did I mention that these little zucchini cakes freeze well?  We froze some last week and thawed them out (microwave carefully so they don't dry out) a couple of days ago.  Just as good as the first time.  These are definitely going in our freezer.

Zucchini Tacos.  Ok, the recipe is officially titled "Veggie Tacos" but it's a great vehicle for zucchini.  We had no cilantro and substituted Feta for the Mexican cotija cheese and they were excellent.  I'm not sure how to make these from preserved ingredients ... maybe do up a batch of the sauteed filling and freeze it?  I might leave out the tomato if attempting this.

Lemon Zucchini Poppyseed Cake.  I was originally going to try this zucchini cake recipe, then google turned up one that started with a lemon box cake ... and since I just happened to have one of those in the cupboard, why bother with a scratch cake?  Plus, this recipe uses 2 cups of zucchini.  That's most of a big one.  It was great!  We used three 6 inch round cake pans instead of the  9x13 because small cakes are more manageable for small families.  We ate one cake -- no frosting necessary -- gave one away and froze one.  Yes, this is another way to freeze zucchini in a form you and your family will actually eat.

I believe this box cake technique will work with any flavor of cake mix.  My next attempt will be an orange almond zucchini cake using a boxed orange cake, 2 cups shredded zucchini, 1/2 cup sliced almonds, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup water and 1/3 cup veg. oil.  I'll let you know how it turns out.

Soup.  Lot's of folks seem to like curried zucchini soup, but we're not big fans.  I canned several quarts of it a few years back and eating it all winter was not a joyful experience.  This year we're trying Zucchini Garlic Soup, which looks dead easy to make and much more to our taste.  It also uses garlic -- a very good thing since our garlic patch is ready for harvest.  Of course, we'll be using vegetable broth instead of chicken.  And if this soup is as good as it looks, I'll be canning some for next winter.  How do I know how long to process the jars if not using a 'canning' recipe?  Check the ingredient list and treat the soup like the ingredient that takes longest, using the hot pack time.  According to my canning table that will be 40 minutes at 10 pounds for quarts of this soup.  It would probably freeze well, too, but I'm saving freezer space for cakes (above).

And there's always zucchini salad.  If you don't have cucumbers this may be a good option.  However, at our house the cucumbers are as plentiful as zucchinis so they get first dibs on salad spots.

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Sunday Garden Blog & Open Thread - Floods, Gunshots , & Chickens

by: countrycat

Sun Jun 10, 2012 at 09:38:18 AM CDT

We're sending good thoughts to the Gulf Coast this morning as they deal with terrible flooding after receiving 13 inches of rain yesterday - and have more rain on the way.  In breaking news from Auburn this morning, there are reports of multiple gunshot victims at an apartment complex where a number of students live.  No word on the number of vicbaby chickstims or their medical condition.  YIKES!

At least at the cathouse, we have some good news from the week.  The vegetables, herbs, & fruits are ripening & we've already made two batches of half sour garlic dill pickles.  We're getting ripe squash, tomatoes jalapenos, and enough basil to cover Madison County in a layer of pesto. 

But the most exciting event was the delivery of our baby chicks - by US MAIL!  The post office called at 6:20 Thursday morning with this terse message: "Please come get your chicks."  For the past few days, we've been entertained by the antics of 16 little hens who seem to be enjoying their new home - a structure we named "The Pulletburo."

What's growing in your garden?

And if you live on the Gulf Coast, please check in so we know you're ok.  Anyone in Auburn... please stay safe and share the news if you have any.

Use this as an open thread.

Discuss :: (15 Comments)

The "New Normal." USDA Revised Planting Map Shows A Warmer Climate

by: countrycat

Sun Jan 29, 2012 at 07:56:55 AM CST

Farmers' and home gardeners' jobs are about to get more difficult.  Most of us have relied on two main clues to decide when to plant in the spring: experience and the USDA planting zone map.  That second one has just been revised: thank you climate change

From the Washington Post notes that the USDA is being coy about drawing conclusions, but others are not:

“The map is not a good instrument for determining climate change,” said Kim Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. “It’s not that there hasn’t been global climate change it’s that the map isn’t a good (vehicle) for demonstrating it.”

USDA’s line of reasoning in perplexing. Climate data are used in USDA’s analysis and the northward jog in planting zones is fully consistent with other data and indicators that establish warming of the coldest temperatures in the U.S.
(and most locations globally).
Seth Borenstein spoke with David Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell, who agreed USDA is being “too cautious” in laying off the climate change connection.

“At a time when the ‘normal’ climate has become a moving target, this revision of the hardiness zone map gives us a clear picture of the ‘new normal,’” Wolfe said.

The Washington Post has a cool interactive map - it's impossible to include here, but go to the site - that compares the old map to the new one.  It clearly shows differences in Alabama and other states.

Now, at first glance, you might wonder why this is a big deal.  A longer growing season means more food, right? 

No.  Because there are a LOT more variables involved: rainfall, heat, plant disease, and insect infestations:

  • Rain:  The hotter is it, the more rain you need - or maybe an expensive irrigation system.  The Texas Drought Project has information about what happens during wide scale droughts.  People have begun to speculate that the situation in Texas isn't in fact a "drought," but creeping desertification. 
  • Heat: Warmer isn't necessarily better.  Yes, earlier planting means we can get those tomatoes & cucumbers in the ground, but it also tends to portend a long, hot summer. Some plants can't withstand it.
  • Disease: A lot of disease problems in the South come from hot, muggy weather that encourages fungal infections.  A little more heat and less moisture helps with that - however, too much heat and drought stresses plants and makes them more susceptible to other problems.
  • Pests: Good, long cold snaps in the winter do more than drive up our heating bills: they kill insects burrowed down in the soil.  Warm winters often lead to armies of voracious squash bugs, Japanese beetles, and other pests in the summer garden.

A longer growing season doesn't necessarily mean more food.  It could mean less.  It could mean that your favorite type of tomato or melon are no longer suited to your area. 

It could mean a lot of things and the longer we keep denying the reality of what is happening, the harder it will be to adapt and deal with new realities.  We can't wish climate change away and we probably can't stop it.  But we have got to start seriously trying to slow it and develop strategies to adapt to it.

Everyone.  Even home gardeners.

Discuss :: (7 Comments)

Special Report for Lyndsey Fifield: Tomato Season is Finally Over - in North Alabama.

by: countrycat

Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 09:58:45 AM CDT

Reports of the death of tomato season were greatly exaggerated 2 1/2 weeks ago when the self-described "honey badger of Public Relations" offered a Tweet that encouraged us to stop lying & "check Google" for the state of tomato season.  Why check Google, we wondered... when all we had to do was check our still-producing tomato plants!

Tomato season in alabama Unfortunately,  the weather caught up with the tomatoes at the cathouse last night when we had quite the heavy frost. The fall garden though, is still quite happy and growing, filled with bok choy, lettuce, and spinach.

Wondering about the other parts of the state.  Are your summer vegetables still hanging on?

Day before yesterday, we picked the rest of the summer vegetables - and it was quite the haul.  11 lbs of bell peppers, a pound of jalapenos, 8.5 pounds of eggplant, and 12 lbs of red and green tomatoes.last summer garden harvest

 What's growing in your fall garden? Share your photos and garden tales with us!

Also use this as an open thread.  It's been a big week for news in Alabama and nationally, so jump in with your links and comments.

Discuss :: (8 Comments)

Sunday Gardening Open Thread: Got Tomatoes?

by: mooncat

Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 10:37:19 AM CDT

TomatoesIt's October and summertime gardens are finally beginning to wind down -- but it's not too late to plant some cool season crops like turnips and mustard greens.  However, until we actually have a frost, warm season favorites like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant will continue producing, especially given the nice warm days we've had this month. 

Right-wingers don't seem to understand that concept since they declared tomato season over in an attempt to spin away the bad smell of Alabama produce rotting in the field

The tweet below is from State House Speaker Mike Hubbard's (R) communications director Todd Stacy, declaring tomato season is over

Todd Stacy Tomato Tweet

Alabama tomatoesTomato season is not over in my garden, as you can see from the photos ... and I didn't bother with the cherry tomatoes which seem to go on forever.  How about your garden?  Got tomatoes? 

Green PepperCucumber and squash season is over in our garden, largely because we didn't do any succession plantings this summer.  In past years we've had cucumbers right up until frost and the plants actually seem to do better once the dog days of summer are behind them.  We still have pole bean vines with pretty foliage, but the beans themselves aren't much to write home about anymore.

Pepper season isn't over yet either.  In fact, our pepper plants are producing better than they have all year.  The warm fall days seem to suit them right down to the ground.  Our basil crop is also still going great guns, as is the okra.  Anyone need okra seed for next year?  We've let several pods mature so there will be plenty.

Red pepperOn the subject of growing seasons, there's no question that growing seasons have grown longer as a result of global climate change. 

Thirty years ago we were in the upper (colder) part of Zone 7 on the USDA map.  The Chamber of Commerce used to say our average first frost was about October 15, now they say it's "near Halloween."  Corno di Toro peppersAccording to the revised USDA map released a couple of years ago, we're now in the warmer half of Zone 7, very near Zone 8.  That's quite a change.  There's a great animated map at arbor.com showing how the growing zones have migrated since 1990.

So, in these suddenly warmer climes, what's growing in your garden -- and be sure to send pics if it's tomatoes!

Discuss :: (9 Comments)

Alabama Seed Savers - Who's Growing Heirloom or Open Pollinated Plants?

by: countrycat

Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 15:00:00 PM CDT

Can it be that Alabama doesn't have enough food?  It must be, since I often see warning signs about food recalls at the grocery store.  This week it was a ground turkey from Arkansas - months after scores of people became ill from it:

But Wednesday's recall announcement came almost five months after the first illness, when the USDA asked the meat giant to recall the massive amount of ground turkey, saying the meat was linked to at least 77 illnesses. 

Because, of course, we don't have enough turkeys in Alabama?

Or maybe it's food scares about beef, lettuce, eggs, or even peanut butter...  One thing a lot of these events have in common is that they are scattered over a wide geographic area.  This makes it harder for food safety professionals to locate the source of the outbreak and even realize that one is in progress.

This is yet another reason we need to be supporting our local farms, farmers markets, and local agriculture.  If our friends and family get sick, it's pretty easy to figure out how and why if their food is local.  Furthermore, local farms and individual home gardeners are more likely to grow produce for flavor while commercial growers are concerned about marketability.

Hint... that's why supermarket tomatoes taste like... well... let's just say they pretty much suck in the flavor department.

As the blog Keating's Desk noted last week, we're experiencing a sharp decline in plant variety. This is more than just a taste or health issue: it's important for our national security:

As we have seen recently, a single negligent act at on plant in Arkansas is capable of contaminating food in 26 states. Imagine what the intentional act of single terrorist could do.

We limit the danger of catastrophic epidemics when our food supply is not so concentrated and controlled by so few agribusinesses and corporations. The National Geographic article reminds us of a famous historical episode when a country lost variety diversity: the Irish Potato Famine.

A number of LIA regular contributors are avid gardeners and many of us are committed to propagating heirloom and open-pollinated varieties.  In the past, we've offered in the spring to share seeds with other gardeners and we'll do that again next spring.

However, it's handy to know how many seeds we need to save!  Who's interested in heirloom field peas, watermelons, muskmelons, okra, and peppers?  The cathouse garden can help you out.  Who else in the LIA community has seeds to share?  Amazingly, in today's food marketplace dominated by large agribusiness interests, saving seeds is an almost political act.

So let's get political!  Let us know what you have to share and what you'd like to have!


Discuss :: (18 Comments)

A Not-So-Sweet Story of Tainted Honey

by: countrycat

Tue Aug 23, 2011 at 06:00:00 AM CDT

Just how "pure" is that honey in your kitchen cabinets?  Like most agricultural products, honey is big business.   Recent allegations that Chinese honey tainted with heavy metals & antibiotics is flooding the US market is a concern - & one more reason to buy local honey whenever you can!

Food Safety News writes about the practice of "honey laundering:"

Food safety investigators from the European Union barred all shipments of honey from India because of the presence of lead and illegal animal antibiotics.  Further, they found an even larger amount of honey apparently had been concocted without the help of bees, made from artificial sweeteners and then extensively filtered to remove any proof of contaminants or adulteration or indications of precisely where the honey actually originated. 

This comes a year after the US supposedly cracked down Chinese honey smuggling rings:

Patrick Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, cautioned that while the honey was tainted with antibiotics that are not approved by US regulators for use in honey production, there was no reason for the public to "panic."

"There is no allegation and no reason to believe that any of the honey involved in this case had led to any injury or illness," he told reporters, adding that the bulk of the imported honey was of a commercial grade and would have been diluted before it reached consumers.

"Diluted."  Feel safer now?

Much of this honey was shipped through India in an effort to disguise its country of origin, although the presence of antibiotics in Indian-produced honey has been a source of concern in that country:

"Antibiotics in honey will reach the bacteria in our guts and sustained long-term exposure to tiny doses of antibiotics is the perfect recipe for drug resistance," Virdi told The Telegraph.

The CSE said it detected antibiotics in samples of honey sold by Dabur, Himalaya, Mehsons, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Khadi, Himflora, Gold and Umang. Samples of one Indian brand — Hitkari — did not reveal any antibiotics.

That's one reason that European Union banned imports of honey from India, although the US is still importing it:

FSN points to shipping data from Aug. 12 tracking the route of some 688,000 pounds of honey from the Chinese port of Nansha in Guangzhou, China, to Little Bee Honey, an exporter in India, over the previous month. Within the previous week, shipping documents showed that six shipments of honey, with the same identification numbers as honey shipped from China, had gone from Little Bee to Los Angeles.

Buying local food whenever possible helps protect your health, enriches our local economy, and increases food diversity.  Insist on local honey and purchase raw honey whenever possible. 
North Carolina is one several states to regulate the marketing of honey inside the state:

Consumers unknowingly purchase honey which is has been altered in some way, and is no longer considered to be pure honey. 

The honey standards board has set up new measures to curb unscrupulous sellers from selling adulterated honey. Honey is considered to be adulterated, or fake, if any product has been added to it prior to the sale of the honey.

"Raw" honey is honey that hasn't been heated and has no additives.  You can often purchase this from your local honey producers.  Why buy honey from China or even from across the country when Alabama beekeepers can provide the real thing at a low cost?

Find Alabama beekeepers and learn more about local beekeeping at the Alabama Beekeepers Web site.

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Sunday Garden Blog

by: mooncat

Sun Feb 27, 2011 at 13:11:45 PM CST

Spring planting seasonGot spring gardening fever?  You're not alone.

Here in the Deep South it feels like planting season, whether you're turning the soil to plant green peas in the garden or starting warm season veggies in the house.  Or setting out some strawberry plants or maybe even brassicas if you're feeling really optimistic.

At our house the recent spate of 70° + temps have brought out all the spring flowers -- even the forsythia is blooming -- and many of the trees are in real danger of blooming and budding out way too early.

Blue miniature iris    Daffodils

What's growing ... or just going on ... at your place?

Discuss :: (15 Comments)

Thursday Good News & Open Thread - Honeybee Killer Identified

by: countrycat

Thu Oct 07, 2010 at 09:40:00 AM CDT

This announcement should cheer gardeners, environmentalists, and anyone concerned about the food supply.  A partnership between the US Military and bee researchers has identified what's been killing honeybees.  As many as as 40% of bee colonies have died since 2006 and, until now, scientists couldn't figure out why.

Bees at workFrom the New York Times:

Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.

A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

Exactly how that combination kills bees remains uncertain, the scientists said — a subject for the next round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.

The problem isn't solved, of course, but the first big step towards a solution - understanding the cause! - is complete.

Discuss :: (13 Comments)

Sunday Gardening and Open Thread

by: mooncat

Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 12:04:44 PM CDT

We're still cleaning up our yard and garden after the neglect it endured the last half of the summer.  Unlike the countrycat household, we aren't exactly burdened down with tons of veggies -- our sweet goat morphed into an escape artist last month and pretty well decimated the tomatoes, sweet peppers, next year's blueberry crop and even the chile peppers -- but we are looking forward to harvesting some of these fall beauties.


Persimmons.  Asian persimmons. 

The variety is "Miss Kim" and this is the first year the tree has borne fruit.  The real question, the one I'm hoping someone here can answer, is when should we pick them?  The tree only has six fruits, total, so we can't afford to do a lot of experimentation.  They're supposed to be sweet even when firm, unlike the persimmons I remember growing wild which would pucker your mouth something fierce if picked before frost.  The weather forecast calls for much cooler weather the next couple of nights, but probably not frost.  Pick now?  Wait a week?  Wait for one to ripen and fall from the tree (or be eaten by birds) then pick the rest?  

What's on your mind, or what's growing in your garden?

Discuss :: (19 Comments)

Giles Perkins Has A Farm.... in Mountainbrook!

by: countrycat

Sat Jul 03, 2010 at 08:52:38 AM CDT

Alabama Attorney General candidate Giles Perkins has a nice house in Mountainbrook.  A really nice house with the luxury appointments you'd expect: a beautiful lawn, lovely interior, great view, and chickens.

Giles Perkins' chickens"Wait a minute," you ask, "CHICKENS?"

That's right.  Honest to goodness live, clucking, egg-laying hens strutting through his vegetable garden searching for tasty insects and laying hormone-free, delicious, BLUE eggs that the Perkins kids sell to neighbors.

Holy cow.  It's like the Clampetts moved to Mountainbrook! And I LOVE it.

I spoke with Perkins about his little urban farm retreat and he described a garden full of chard, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, other vegetables, along with a small flock of chickens:

"I grew up in the country.  My parents taught me values and I want my kids to learn the same lessons.  If you don't take care of your hens or your plants, they'll die.  It's that simple and once you understand that, you know instinctively that we have to take care of the Earth as carefully as we do our animals and our gardens."

More on the flip, with a photo of the garden vegetables and Perkins' discussion of what his children learn from gardening and caring for animals.
There's More... :: (11 Comments, 292 words in story)

Saturday Garden Blog & Open Thread .... How long 'til frost?

by: countrycat

Sat Aug 22, 2009 at 15:09:41 PM CDT

sweet basilYikes!  And I thought we were busy a couple of weeks ago.  The garden is laying me this week and I should be thankful for the bounty.  Instead, I'm overwhelmed just by what I picked TODAY:

Paste tomatoes: 5.6 pounds
Slicing tomatoes: 3 pounds
Blue goose peas: 2.75 pounds
Tomatillos:  1.2 pounds
Jalapenos: 1.5 pounds
Bell peppers: 2.75 pounds
Okra: 2.5 pounds
Green chiles: .75 pounds
Yellow squash: .5 pounds (don't worry, the second planting is coming along nicely)

In other agricultural news, I've included a video clip of Agriculture Commissioner, Ron Sparks, discussing genetically modified food during his recent campaign stop in Huntsville.   That's on the flip.

There's More... :: (25 Comments, 44 words in story)
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