Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cover Crop Haircut, Carrot Harvest, and Late Blight

My buckwheat/crimson clover summer cover crop has sprung up nicely, but the fast-growing buckwheat is definitely dominating the mixture. Last summer my lab mate found that mowing down the buckwheat in a mix like this gives the clover the light it needs to really get growing (and hopefully for the next crop, fixing lots of nitrogen).

Since this is a garden and not a whole field (and because I don't have a tractor anyway), I just went at the buckwheat with a pair of scissors to give the clover some light.

Close-up of the clover "waiting in the wings" beneath the buckwheat.

The zucchini continues to produce prolifically, despite the powdery mildew.

I'm definitely planting this variety ("Elite") again next year!

This is my second harvest of my "early" carrot variety. I also have a later variety planted.

Beets seem to be doing OK.

This year most of the Northeast was hit early and hit hard by late blight, a plant disease caused by the infamous Phytophthora infestans oomycete. The disease affects potatoes and tomatoes (Learn about late blight at: This year's early infection can be attributed to sales of diseased tomato plants from many of the "big box" stores like Wal-mart, Lowe's, and Home Depot (see NY Times article at: Since the spores can be spread by wind on cloudy days, and because we've had so much rain (great growing and spore-producing conditions) the infected plants spread the disease to gardens and farms that had clean transplants to start with.

So, the moral of this story is: (1) Big box stores that do not even know how to identify diseased plants should not be allowed to sell transplants! And (2) Since (1) is unlikely, please buy your garden transplants from local farmers who know late blight when they see it and are smart enough not to pass it on!

This is a tomato leaf in the early stages of infection with late blight, with brown spots on the lower leaves (above and following picture).

These plants are further along in the infection stage, with most of the leaves rotted (above and following picture). The Sungolds have mostly been OK, with the tomatoes ripening mainly clean, more than 20 per day for the past 2 weeks. Unfortunately, most of my big tomatoes (Pink Beauty and Brandywine) have been infected by the blight and I've had to throw them out. :-( It was a bummer to lose tomatoes sizing up so nicely, but I really feel bad for the farmers who have invested so much in their tomato crops and were depending on the income.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Snap Peas, Summer Squash, and Sungolds...

...three of my favorite garden veggies, all in full swing at last!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

After Vacation: Jungle Garden!

Just got back from two weeks of vacation ... and boy, did I have my work cut out for me in the garden-turned-jungle!

The buckwheat / crimson clover cover crop has come up nicely and is providing good ground cover. It should provide lots of organic matter and nitrogen next spring when I dig it in before planting veggies.

Close-up of the cover crop mix: taller buckwheat and shorter crimson clover.

The snap peas are looking (and tasting) great!

The hot day has got the beets a little wilted, but they perk up in the evening.

The tomatoes were quite the challenge. When I got back, several had flopped over under the weight of the growing fruits. With the tomatoes so entwined in the cages, the best I could come up with was a rather awkward spiderweb-reinforcement in which I anchored the cages (and provided more support for flopping tomato branches) with string tied to the fenceposts. Next year I will use stakes and rope trellising, not use those wimpy tomato cages (even though I got them for free) and be sure to plant the tomatoes further apart and pinch off more of the sucker plants.

Sungolds ripening...yum!

And some gigantic Brandywines setting fruit

The zucchinis and nasturtiums went a little crazy while I was gone, too. The nasturtiums nearly choked my two younger (planted-from-seed) summer squash plants, so I pruned back the flowers (but not without damage to the poor squash plants). Again ... I need to plant the squash further apart next year and prune the nasturtiums more.

The carrots seem to be recovering nicely from the rabbit attacks of early summer. No bunnies allowed!!!

Side view of carrots with squash in the background.

View of the whole big garden.

Produce harvested today ... mint, rosemary, giant zucchinis (I like them smaller), green Brandwine tomatoes (fell off while I was trellising, but they might ripen), snap peas, and Sungold cherry tomatoes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Planting Cover Crops and Eating Zucchini

Cover crops are planted specifically to protect and improve the soil. Many organic farmers plant legumes after harvest in the fall to protect the soil over the winter, when there are no crops, then work the cover crop into the soil to provide nitrogen for next year's veggies or grain crops. Some farmers also cover crops in the summertime. Johnny's Seed Company sells some cover crop seed in small amounts for home gardeners.

A lab mate of mine is working on what combinations of summer cover crops give the best protective cover, nitrogen fixation, and weed suppression. After helping him sample his plots last fall, I decided to try buckwheat (quick cover) + crimson clover (a tropical legume that produces lots of biomass and hopefully lots of nitrogen!) this summer. These plants will die over the winter and I'll work them in in the spring.

I'm going to try to cover crop 1/3 of my garden each summer to build up organic matter (affectionately known as "OM" among ag nerds like me) and help break the life cycles of soil-borne pests, diseases, and weeds. On the other plots I'll plant red clover in the fall after harvest to over-winter (red clover is a lot hardier than the crimson clover).

The bare soil, ready to be planted.

Cover crop seed: crimson clover (left) and buckwheat (right). Thanks, Burtie!

After broadcasting the seed, I raked it in to improve seed-soil contact.

The tomatoes continue to grow well!

A Pink Beauty tomato plant

Pink Beauty tomatoes (well, for now, Green Beauty tomatoes) setting fruit

Snap peas climbing their trellis (above and following 2 photos)

Snap pea plant beginning to flower and develop pods.

The peppers were not doing well (too cold and rainy) so I pulled them out and planted beets. Sorry, this picture is kind of fuzzy. It's hard to focus the camera on plants so small.

Some of the carrots never recovered from the munching of the bunny, but a fair number are bouncing back. I mulched in between rows to conserve moisture.

And the zucchini-nasturtium jungle continues to thicken.

More zucchini, almost ready to pick!

Over in the Little Garden, the broccoli did not like the shade -- some bolted, some got tall and leggy. But the spinach tolerated the shade well, so once I harvested my first planting of spinach I decided to plant more for a fall crop. Here I have two rows of soil open to seed.

Spinach seeds ready to be covered with soil. Spinach doesn't usually germinate well in such warm weather, but this is a bolt-resistant variety and the shade actually should help, in this situation.

And, back in the kitchen, I cannot keep up with the zucchini harvest! I'm eating it raw as a snack, in salads for lunch, and in tomato-zucchini stir fries for dinner! Good thing I like zucchini :-)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Raspberry Picking

The New World Agriculture and Ecology Group at Cornell went raspberry picking today at Grisamore Farms.

Allison and Hanh begin to fill their baskets.

The raspberries are wonderful this year!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Zucchini and Nasturtium Harvest

This morning I had my first harvest of zucchini and nasturtiums from the garden!

The zucchini-nasturtium jungle ... I never did thin the nasturtiums. I think they might be protecting the zucchinis from pests.

Yikes, zucchinis grow fast! This one barely existed two days ago. If I'm not careful to harvest often they might get so big they are only suitable for bonking people on the head! (I find that zucchini is most tender and yummy at a small size).

Zucchini and nasturtium harvest.

Meanwhile the Sungold tomatoes are growing like gangbusters.

The first Brandywine tomatoes have started to set fruit too.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

First Harvest: Spinach and Radishes

Here's my first non-herb harvest of the season: spinach and radishes. The radishes were pretty small, but given the antics of our resident bunny, they didn't have a lot of leaf area to be photosynthesizing and sending sugars down to the tubers. The carrots seem to be greening up now that I fixed the fence, so maybe another planting of radishes will fare better....