Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

It's Earth Day; what better time to resume my blog? I'm so happy for the warmth of spring and the growing trends toward a green lifestyle. There are so many little things we can do that, when added up over all people or over a lifetime, can make a BIG difference. Today, I'm not only celebrating Earth, but also my wedding anniversary! What are you doing to celebrate Earth Day? How about making a New-Earth-Year's resolution?

I will start small by taking on a couple resolutions for the next month. If I can do it, I'll expand it to the rest of the year.
My challenge for the month:
1) I will not use ANY disposable plastic water bottles, plastic individual-sized soda/juice bottles, or disposable cups.
2) I will not take any plastic or paper bags during ANY shopping trip (exceptions made for bagging produce). This means that I will either need to remember my reusable cloth bags or carry items out in my hands. This pledge includes trips to clothing shops, food shops, drug stores, etc.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Down on the Farm--Part Two: The Garden

Mother-in-law and Father-in-law have great gardening skills. The first thing I want to do whenever we go to their farm in Wisconsin is get a tour of their garden to see all the things they are growing. While there, I picked some onions, peas, cabbage, cauliflower, and berries. Almost all the veggies we ate for the whole week were fresh from their garden. Father-in-law's sister also has an amazing garden. She makes the best salsa from it. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Some day, I hope to have a garden like theirs, but that will take some time, especially considering we are confined to our organic patio. Obviously as a first-year gardener, it will also take a lot more experience. Here are some pictures of the garden on the Wisconsin farm.

Here you can see onions, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, pole beans, bush beans, peas, and more!

These are their tomatoes and a few peppers. The tomatoes had a rough start but have recovered and are doing well. Mother-in-law and Father-in-law got a variety pack of heirloom tomato seeds. Can't wait to see what kinds they get!

Here's the middle section of their garden, showing the onions and beets again. On the left, you can see their spent asparagus, then all their potatoes. They have a variety of potatoes, including blue potatoes. I had never seen these tomatoes before. They had purple skin and purple insides! Some of their potatoes had seeds/fruit growing from where the flowers were. Have you ever thought of potatoes having seeds? Have you ever tried planting the seeds?

The best part about the farm is the peacefulness. There are beautiful views of all the hilltops in the area. When I wake up in the morning, I am so happy. I look out the windows and say, "Good morning, World!" The view is so great that it seems the lands respond, "Good morning, Mariwood!" Here's what I look out to see in the morning.

We had a special treat this visit. Some of the wandering cats have found food and lodging at the farm. One had kittens, which were about six weeks old when we got there. They were lots of fun. A special blog hello to Runt, the most funnest little orange guy in the front! Next week, they should be in their new home as a family on a nearby apple orchard. I hope they have a great time exploring and mousing. I miss playing with Runt so much!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Down on the Farm--Part 1: The Dairy Farm

Husband and I were on "vacation" last week. We went to visit his parents/family down on the farm in Wisconsin. Although his parents don't farm the land themselves, they rent it out to their neighbors, who run an Organic Valley dairy farm. Somewhere on the website is a picture of one of the farming family members, but I won't tell you where. His picture actually hangs at our local organic market. Whenever I see it, I feel like I know someone famous. Maybe you can tell, I'm in love with this Organic Valley farm family and always enjoy my visits there.

I try to make it a point to observe the things they are doing on the dairy farm to learn more about the work and lifestyle. Last week, the big project was mowing, raking, baling, and storing hay. You can learn more about this process at Wikipedia. I got to see each step in the process and even had my first tractor ride! I've always wanted to ride on a tractor. How I wish I had a picture! I'm worried they secretly think I am a dork for wanting to follow them around all the time. I also got to see the milking process and the calves being fed. The babies are so cute; a couple were less than a week old!

I think this farm is so admirable because the father has gone to take an executive type job at the Organic Valley headquarters in Wisconsin. He travels around lecturing and recruiting farmers to organic farming and Organic Valley. His two sons now run the farm. The oldest, who has the main responsibility, is only about 25--younger than I! He is really inspirational to me because I often feel like a kid that can't handle the responsibilities of adulthood. And here he is, running an entire farm! The younger son is in school for Agricultural Engineering and spends his spare time developing his biodiesel projects. These guys are so cool!

Do you love family farms? Do you buy Organic Valley? Do you ever wonder which organic dairy products are best? Do you ever wonder how organic your brand is, or how nice it is to their cows? Go to the Organic Dairy Report Card.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Tomato Emergency Update

No need to worry. Everything seems to be under control, and the emergency has passed. After Gina's inquiry, I realized that I had left people hanging and perhaps wondering if our sad little broken branch had taken a turn for the worse. I was planning on using wilting leaves as my cue for certain death, but I realized the broken branch is only flowers and fruit--no leaves! How can I know that whether the poor branch is healing? Will the attached tomatoes start to shrivel? I have no idea. Any suggestions?

A few days ago, we added some half-toothpick splints after deciding that the suggested pencil splits would be too big for a branch that's only about 3 mm wide. Yes, I'm an American who just used the metric system, but I'm also a scientist who can't think of what fraction of an inch that would be--a 16th, an 8th? When we unwrapped the tape, the broken part seemed to be a bit stronger and better attached, but still a little broken. We hope it is on the mend and that the splint suggestion works. As you can see, things look pretty good a week after the break, or at least no worse. Maybe some of the smaller tomato buds have grown a little. The picture is from July 4th and also shows one of our ripening fruits. I'll update you on how those turned out in the next post.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tomato Emergency!

Mother-in-law and Father-in-law were in town this past week imparting their gardening wisdom on our lowly patio. This morning, as they were getting ready to leave, I looked out only to find that the Santa tomato plant had a severe injury. A fruit-laden branch had broken halfway through! How can I save this?

I thought I might be able to tape it together so that it can heal. However, Husband and I tried this with a jalapeno pepper branch that held a flower bud. I think it was too late for the pepper because it had already started to wilt. The day after the tape bandage, it was clear that the operation was not a success. Mother-in-law said that we could try the tape bandage on the tomato, but that success hinged on the operation being performed very soon after the injury. To be honest, I have no idea when it happened. I don't remember anything unusual yesterday when I watered. However, I haven't been spending as much time in the garden for observation because it has been so Hazy, Hot, and Humid! Still I have hope that the injury was recent because the leaves haven't wilted yet.

So that's what I did. I tried to make a supportive, binding, tape bandage. I don't know how it'll work. It occurred to me that I could try to make a clean cut and try to re-root the broken branch. If I see the leaves start to wilt, I will attempt the re-rooting procedure.

How do you perform surgery on your broken tomatoes? Amputation or reattachment? Do you think my tape bandage will work? Is there a better way to bandage your plants? Should I try re-rooting the broken branch? If so, how should I do this? I'm frantic for answers, as the six or seven vulnerably attached tomatoes must be saved!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Transformation on the Patio

We made big changes on the patio last weekend. We bought some wee cherry tomato plants two weekends ago from the semi-local farmers' market. We go there every weekend, and it tends to be the thing I look forward to doing all week. The problem was we didn't have containers for the cherry tomatoes. Hence, the cherries demanded major changes. So we moved the Santa and Patio tomatoes to a large bin, giving them some more root room and perhaps crowding the above-ground growth. We moved the cherries to some large bins, because Father-in-law said they need a lot of room. We also bought some purple sweet peppers and potted those in the old tomato pots.

Here's what we did. We bought two 18 gallon, and one smaller, galvanized steel tubs and rinsed them. These were cheap and functional, working nicely into our limited budget. Ideally, we would have filled them with water for 24 hours to leach and surface chemicals. I learned this trick from my short stint in oyster aquaculture for my research.

Then we filled the bottoms with about an inch or so of gravel and spread it around. I would have liked to soak the gravel, too, but we never quite got around to it.

Next, we filled the pails with ORGANIC potting soil
purchased from our favorite farmers' market. Then dug holes and transplanted the potted tomatoes.

These three tomato plants went from this:

To this:

And the cherry tomatoes went from packed and thirsty here:
To these two roomy, moist pails:

The new Purple Beauties peppers went from packed (here) to potted (above and below).

So in all, my patio garden has undergone an expanded transformation.

My legs were sore for a few days afterward, but I think it was well worth the hard day's work and subsequent pain. What do you think of our set up? Are things too crowded? Is galvanized steel bad? Any suggestions for improvement?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Inside Out

We've done a lot this season, and a lot has changed since we started our patio gardening in March. Firstly, we didn't even start on the patio. We started our goodies inside: the rosemary from the indoor winter garden, five cayenne pepper seeds, five jalapeno pepper seeds, a lot of spinach seeds, and six marigold seeds. The rosemary was in it's own container, a small four inch pot. We planted each of the pepper types at opposite ends of a long window box along with four marigolds. In a smaller window box, we planted about 100 spinach seeds with two marigold seeds.

The spinach went out immediately because it's happy in cold weather. As soon as frost was no longer a threat, which was pretty late this year, the pepper box and rosemary moved out. We added about 16-24 seeds of cilantro and basil to the big window box in mid-April. At the same time, we bought a three tomato plants (one Santa F1 and two Patio F1). Only three cayenne and two jalapeno seeds germinated. The spinach, cilantro, and basil had high germination rates. Here's what everything looked like by the beginning of May:

As you can see, the spinach did great! You might wonder why we planted so many seeds. A friend, who has a successful balcony garden, said he did it this way. You get lots of baby spinach and progressively thin things out as you eat the baby spinach. Plus, we are trying to grow as much as possible in as little space as possible. It may lead to crowding or disease, but that's part of the experiment. How much do you think we can squeeze things? We are just finishing up the remaining spinach now and are looking for a summer nutritious green for sandwiches and salads. Chard, kale, who knows? Any suggestions?

And why the marigolds? The same friend said this would help with our past aphid problem by emitting noxious chemicals that aphids and other pests hate. For the most part, I think it has worked. I still have to do some aphid squishing, which I think is best kept under control by daily squishing. The only suspicious thing is that I sometimes find them on the underside of the marigold petals. What's that about? All I know is that there are WAY less aphids than last year. I think the marigolds have kept most of the aphids away and provided some pretty color to an otherwise monochromatic green patio garden.

I think the spinach provides additional support for my marigold success hypothesis. The marigolds didn't grow as quickly in the spinach box because they were shaded by the spinach, which grew quickly in the cold weather. When we harvested the last of the spinach, the clearance revealed a small, flowerless marigold and that the box had lots of aphids, both winged and unwinged, big and little. What do you do to deter garden pests from ever taking hold?