Monday, June 15, 2009

Independence Days Challenge - Inadequacy Edition

These days I'm feeling a little inadequate in the gardening department. I've put a lot of work into my garden already this year. But so far we've gotten relatively little out of it, or at least it feels that way to me. Lettuces, and other greens, and herbs. Until I harvested the garlic scapes this past week, that's all we've gotten so far. And it's already the middle of June.

As usual, this is partly a result of nature having her say, and partly my own doings. Nature has weighed in to let me know that the slugs simply love - love - the lasagna mulch that I laid down last year and early this year. I'm really not happy about this. See, I've lived in two different areas where slugs are absolutely the bane of gardeners' existences. And I was so pleased to find that the slug populations here in Pennsylvania were really quite manageable. This year however, thanks to all that mulch, they are throwing an ongoing party in my garden. They pretty much wiped out my first set of Tuscan kale, which is my absolute favorite vegetable, and one we count on to produce both early and late. They did a number on the chard too, though some of the beets seem to be holding on. I've picked up a large supply of diatomaceous earth (essentially fossilized microfauna, so sharp that they tear open the soft bodies of slugs) which I'm hoping will keep my next round of brassicas alive.

Despite the slug infestation, I have to admit that deep lasagna mulching has its benefits. I haven't given up on the practice at all.

Our lack of other things to harvest is partly due to the things I chose to plant, and how I chose to plant them. There's plenty of room for improvement in my use of row covers for getting things started early. I could have planted peas, radishes and other early crops, but I didn't. We're not all that crazy about radishes, and peas have always seemed like a lot of work for a little food. However, we love snow peas, which require no shelling. Indeed, the Brits call them mangetout, taken from the French for "eat it all." Yes, you eat the whole thing. And had I planted them, we'd be eating them by now. So snow peas are in order for next spring's planting. I may even see if I can squeeze in a crop during the late season this year.

Meanwhile I continue planting things, weeding, and watching our bush zucchini, popcorn, four varieties of potato, three varieties of winter squash, charantais melon, six varieties of garlic, carrots, beets, parsnips, onions, leeks, shallots, chard, okra, soup beans, four varieties of tomato, poblano peppers, eggplant, lots of different lettuces, and celeriac grow and grow and grow out there. Not to mention the herbs and flowers, and the apples on our ancient tree. We've got volunteer wineberries with buds all over the canes. But so little is ready for harvest yet. And the new asparagus is putting out another set of stalks, but they're all off-limits this year. Sigh.

On to the Independence Days report...

Planted: lovage, shallots, leeks, onions, still more kale, charantais melon seedlings, celeriac seedlings, next round of parsnips, next round of spinach.

Harvested: garlic scapes, lettuce, herbs, spinach, and eggs from the girls. I've also started gathering the wild strawberries for the girls, in addition to their daily complement of weeds. Wild strawberries don't do much for me, but the girls are positively thrilled by them, which is so gratifying. My husband went gleaning for mulberries over the weekend.

Preserved: Just two little bags of garlic scape pesto put into the freezer. That's it.

Waste not: I actually located a facility in my area that will recycle styrofoam! Also, now that we have a rocket stove, there's a good reason (other than aesthetics) to gather all the dead wood that the storms are knocking out of our trees. Now it's fuel.

Preparation/Storage: I started sealing some pantry goods in glass canning jars with a borrowed vacuum sealer contraption. This was timely because all the rain we've been having brought a significant amount of water into our basement, where I store a lot of our dry goods. It was nice not to have to worry about the food. Vacuum sealing in glass means the food is safe from both critters and moisture. We're still working on finding some affordable shelving to set up a proper organized storage area down there. We certainly have the room.

Also, we had a solar site evaluation done on our property on Saturday. This is our second one, since we thought the first guys were basically bozos. The crew that came on Saturday were not bozos. We'll see what they come back with.

I'm going to count the book I'm reading in this category too. Gaia's Garden is an excellent introduction to permaculture/forest gardening on a residential lot scale. It's readable enough that I'm actually working my way through it from cover to cover, which is not the way I usually read gardening titles. And it's already taught me a great deal about the biochemistry of soil and what goes on below ground and out of sight in my garden. It's also making me look at the space around and under my apple tree in a new light. The wheels begin to turn...

Community: Took three large heads of lettuce and some herbs from the garden to the food bank, and got one relative to do the same. All part of my Plant a Row project.

I think I may be making a little bit of headway in encouraging some of my relatives to think about growing more of their own food.

Eat the food: The garlic scapes that weren't made into pesto went into some pasta with a jar of my roasted tomato sauce from last year. I've been putting a lot of spinach into my quesadillas. Still nice to have fresh lettuce around for entree salads and sandwich fixings.

We're eating down my frozen stores of homemade bread. We'll continue this throughout the summer months.

Also, I've been making impromptu bowls of meuslix for breakfast with the mixture of six different rolled grains that I normally put in my multigrain sandwich loaves. Since baking season is over for now, it's nice to have an alternate use for this stuff so that it doesn't just sit around for a few months. I also add some of the powdered milk that I got such a great deal on way back when, so that's helping make more room in the chest freezer. I find it's pretty satisfying with just a little bit of whatever dried fruit is hanging around: cranberries, raisins, sour cherries. It's all good. Perhaps I should actually take the time to mix up a batch of meuslix. But then, that would take away the day-to-day variety.

You can join in with the Independence Days Challenge too. Say your piece in the comments, or link to your own post.

Other Independence Days reports
5/18/09 - First of 2009
6/8/09 - Okra Edition


el said...

Now now, Kate! Buck up! I think it has been a horrible year for losing crops to creepy-crawlies as it has been SO cool and wet. My pest (though I have slugs aplenty too) are those *$#@ sowbugs who eat my beans as they emerge. Need second plantings on ALL beans, most squash, not happy.

But with the lasagna bed: you might just need to kind of figure a way to scrape the ground clean where you put the seeds or new plants in. Diatomaceous earth tends to help with those slugs; you could sprinkle strips of it on either side of a row. Otherwise the benefits of deep mulch are fairly good, just maybe not in a year as weird as this one has been.

And every year has a "fallow" period as far as harvesting goes; you're between asparagus and bean season is all...

Candace said...

Put crushed egg shells around your plants, the slugs won't crawl over them.
You are doing a fabulous job, just be patient!

Sue said...

I'll have to try Candaces suggestion of eggshells. I am mulching everything heavily this year in order to conserve water...but , it harbors pests. I'm kinda torn on it...I love watering less, but oy vay-the pests!

Anonymous said...

Two bits of advice.

First - use Sluggo. I am all about low input gardening, but if you can't have ducks in your garden, then this is they next best thing. It is OMRI certified (Organic) and works INCREDIBLY well. you will have almost zero slug damage within 3-4 days.

Second - asparagus and strawberries really brighten up the spring harvest. Try some sorrel too. (

Gaia's garden is fantastic! So glad you're reading it!


Kate said...

Thanks, El. I think I may have had some sowbug damage to my beans as well. One variety made it through alright. The other, I'll be lucky to harvest enough to replace the planting stock. I've reordered and will try a flageolet. I did think first of the diatomaceous earth, though I'm seeing the need to replace it frequently with the amount of rain we've been having. As for the fallow season, I guess I'd feel better if we'd *had* an asparagus season. But as this is year 1, we couldn't harvest any.

Candace, in the other two slug-fest areas I lived I tried everything, including the beer can traps and the crushed egg shells. Neither of those strategies worked for me. The slugs came to the beer cans, sipped daintily, and went away drunk. Some of my beds were absolutely white with finely crushed egg shells, and still the slugs destroyed my plants. Maybe it would work where slug populations are lower, but I saw poor results.

Sue, I agree. The slugs are like an old nightmare returned.

Onestraw, I'm pretty sure that Sluggo is what I ended up resorting to in slug-fest #2. Are they little blue pellet things? I remember that the product was organic, and that I pretty much coated my garden beds with the product. It did work. It's pretty dispiriting to see that a good technique (deep mulching) has brought in a problem I thought I had dodged with a move to a different location. I wonder if the deep mulching is something that I can gradually taper off as my soil improves over the years. Do you know?

Ellen said...

I know it can be frustrating. Our garden isn't producing much besides greens yet either. But summer will get here eventually!

Candace said...

You said you finely crushed the egg shells? They should be left large and very jagged. Works for me. Good luck!

safira said...

The weather in the northeast has made this a slow spring. My salvation has been Asian greens galore, but I suppose your slugfestation would have eaten those too.

Kate said...

CoaOM, I'm counting on that. I just hope the plants survive this much rain.

Candace, I'm glad it works for you. I think that where I lived before just had super slugs. Nothing but the organic treatment chemicals seemed to work. I tried everything.

Safira, the lettuces have certainly been happy, and they seem to mostly shrug off the slugs. The arugula has gone absolutely bonkers.