The Weird Bugs Continue

Ok, Entomologists: Tell me what this thing is.

I found him on a window screen. He's been hanging out all day. Beetle? Cricket?
*edit 9/14/15 It is NOT a beetle, it is a true bug, by the name of Leptoglossus zonatus, or Leaf-Footed Bug. This guy has probably been eating all my fruiting vegetables. Next time I see one, it's toast.

The Western Spotted Cucumber Beetles are all over my garden, I find them in every crop, on every flower. So far they haven't done enough damage to any one thing that we can't harvest some of it. But honestly, they are everywhere, and I've never had them before. Hopefully my deep mulch plan (with chicken coop litter) will help to deter them next year. They apparently overwinter in the soil. Argh.

But I continue to see good bugs on everything too -native bees, most notably the huge Carpenter Bees on all the flowers each morning. We checked our honeybee hive today and they look great - a little bit of brood, a lot of honey - plenty for winter, I think. This is really good news. Now if they can just fight off (or avoid entirely) varroa mites, we may have a strong overwintering hive. I've decided not to use chemicals to treat any varroa seen or unseen. I'm convinced now that I have to let the strong survive without help, and evolutionarily, the weak ones shouldn't survive. The bees just have to figure it out themselves. It's heartbreaking but that's the way I think it should go down. I know plenty of people would disagree with this assessment. However I'm confident in my decision, and I'll let you know how it plays out here in the next few months.

I continue to see lots of spiders, and lots of monarch butterflies. Today I found a scrap of monarch Gulf Fritillary wing on the garden paths. It's really beautiful, and nice to have a chance to study it close up.


back - hard to see in this light, but those white
patches are silvery and glittery

The first section of buckwheat cover crop has flowered and it sure is pretty - in a couple of days I'll need to chop it down so it doesn't set seed. I'll let it compost in place. I've been reading an awful lot about cover crops and growing all your own compost materials rather than importing outside materials. For instance, I don't know exactly the history of any compost I order in bulk, nor do I know the exact history of even the horse manure I pick up each year. Who's to say the horses didn't eat herbicide-treated hay? In that case, you'd have herbicide-treated manure, which can do a bad number on your crops. I've had a lot of trouble with crops this year, most notably tomatoes and pumpkins, both of whom are planted in (forgive me) a shitload of horse manure-amended soil. In fact the cucumbers haven't done that well, and I've had problems with other crops too. So who knows? If I grow all my own carbon materials here in the garden, I'll have everything I need to make plenty of compost. I already have quite a bit, the compost just takes so long to break down. I guess I need to be better about turning and watering it. Or build a compost pile directly on a raised bed that is fallow, then start a new one when that is high enough... Gosh it just takes so much planning. Even getting a cover crop in takes a lot of planning, because I can grow veg in the beds year-round. If we had a cold winter here, I could plant a cover crop in the fall and let it winterkill, then the beds would be all ready come spring. Oh well. There's drawbacks and benefits to gardening any place, I guess. But the benefits to using cover crops are very clear in numerous ways - they definitely provide stacking functions (a permaculture premise) as they do more than one job. Feed pollinators, improve soil tilth, provide compost material, prevent soil erosion, feed microorganisms in the soil - lots of good stuff.

I do have to say, my honeybees pretty much leave the buckwheat alone, just as they did last year. I'm not sure if I'm planting the wrong kind to attract honeybees or what. There are lots of native pollinators on it, which is great - I was just hoping to provide some forage for my bees, as well. I may try something different next summer. The only thing is, buckwheat is good for hot dry weather and fast growing, and there aren't too many other cover crops that fit that bill.

I did see some honeybees up in the open space last week, which is only a mile from our house, so it's very likely that they are our bees (although I do know one other beekeeper in my area). The tarweed (Hemizonia congesta) is prolific right now, up in the hills.

As you can see, that's about the only living thing up there at the moment, other than native trees.

Here's another interesting thing I found this week walking with Joe:

Sorry the light is wrong on this picture, but the turkeys are everywhere, as usual. I wish I could try to catch one for Thanksgiving dinner. I wonder if we'd be allowed to? And then of course how would you do that without a weapon? I haven't the foggiest. Joe the dog just looks at them and yawns, so he's no help.

I harvested beans, tomatoes, peppers (both hot and sweet), cantaloupe, cucumbers, and herbs today from the garden. Three beds are full of ripening pumpkins (mostly the mini variety at this point, though I planted three different sizes), one bed is holding basil and buckwheat, one has cucumbers and buckwheat, one has cantaloupe, another one has just buckwheat, three have tomatoes, one has all the peppers, one has winter squashes, one has beans, and one has the sweet potatoes, which are going nuts. I'm looking forward to winter crops, even though we're nowhere near ready to plant them yet. We've got at least a month of hot weather in front of us. Early November will be our time to get the floating row covers ready and plant overwintering crops.

Late August means Orb Weaver Season, Back to Routine, and Plans for the Winter Garden

Forgive my lack of writing this week; the kids and I are moving back in to a school year routine, and it takes some getting used to. It's great to have the summer off, but it makes the end of August difficult. Adam's in 8th grade now, Kate in 7th, and I'm working more and different hours at the school for differently-abled kids. It makes mornings hurried; I'm up before the chickens, trying to get chores done and lunches packed and breakfasts eaten and dog walked before we all have to leave shortly before 8. I know millions of people do this every day, but in the past I've been lucky to have jobs that allowed me to take the kids to school, then get my chores done, before I rolled in at work around 9:30-10. So this is new for me, and it just means that more needs to get done after work rather than before.

And, as always, just as school begins, the weather heats up again. It's been over 100 here at Poppy Corners for several days now. I think you can safely say that we are trying our hand at dry gardening whether we meant to or not. Everything looks spent and wilted, but the plants just keep producing, and everything they produce has extra flavor. Tomatoes are smaller than usual, as are peppers, but the improved taste makes up for it. Every extra ounce of water from the house goes out somewhere in the garden. The drips are running twice a day at the moment, but it's still not nearly enough water. I had a neighbor/horticulture expert come look at my sad-leaved tomatoes - his diagnosis was they were just plain old too dry. But I suppose those roots are 10 feet down, sucking out every drop of moisture they can, because the tomatoes just keep coming.

Next year I'll have plenty of soiled chicken bedding to use as a thick mulch, and that should help things mightily. Meanwhile maybe we'll actually get the El Nino event we're all hoping for and winter will be very wet.

The rise and hold in higher temperatures means it's Orb Weaver season, and I've started to see their webs everywhere. Once in a while I'll catch the actual spider, if I'm out late deadheading or picking produce.

The webs are truly beautiful, and I hear that they consume them every night, then rest for an hour, and make an entirely new one before morning. Completely different from the other spider webs I see most often in our yard, that of the Black Widow. Their webs are messy and dirty and thoroughly un-enchanting.

Some flowers are finally giving up the ghost and going to seed, such as this variety of Nicotiana  Four O'Clocks - I've collected quite a few to save for spring, meanwhile leaving some to re-seed where they stand.

the black things are the seeds

Other flowers are just pumping out blossom after blossom, and the bees and butterflies continue to feed and collect, which is a joy to watch.

I harvested the last of the watermelon.

yummy, but seedy

We've had an abundant crop, and the plant is putting out more blossoms, but I think I want to pull up the vines this weekend and get a cover crop in. This variety, Moon and Stars, was not our favorite, so I didn't save any of the abundant seed from our harvest. I'll try a different variety next year.

Peppers have been ripening fast, and we tried a new recipe which we all just loved. I had to use frozen corn because our corn harvest is over, but if you still have corn and peppers in the garden, you must try it.

Broil about 1/2 pound of peppers. I used both green and red Jimmy Nardello (sweet), plus a couple of Sweet Sunrise, plus some Red Marconi that were still green. Take off the stems and seed them, and arrange them on an oiled baking sheet. Broil them about 2 inches from the heating element until softened. Cut into strips and add kernels of corn (I used about a cup and a half), uncooked. Toss. Add 3T balsamic vinegar, 3T olive oil, 2T chopped fresh basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the salad stand at room temp for at least an hour. This was unbelievably delicious. (Thank you, Full Belly Farm, for the recipe idea!) The leftovers were even better the next day.

peppers ready for roasting
We've discovered that our favorite potato recipe, using our homegrown Yukon Golds, is hash browns. (Kate had never even heard of hash browns before this, but now she is a total convert.) I grate the potatoes using a box grater into a colander. Then I rinse the potatoes off and press out the excess water. I then drain them on to several thicknesses of paper towels (if you get plain white paper towels, these can go in to the compost after, and you don't have to feel quite so wasteful) and press out any extra water. Then I fry them like one big potato pancake with plenty of butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper, until crispy. Flip in sections (or whole if you're a better flipper than I) so both sides get well done.

We have all decided that the flavor of our potatoes is superior, thank you very much, to anything we could buy in the store. It's just a whole different taste. Usually potatoes are just a vehicle for the fat or seasonings, but these have a distinct flavor that is totally delicious. I'm definitely going to plant potatoes over the winter, too.

hello, lovelies

ready to fry

world's smallest potato
I've been working on my winter garden plan, and I think I've got it all figured out. Here's my design:

No room for hard red winter wheat this year.

Tom and I have talked a lot about the last, lone patch of dead grass near the South Garden. I think we've decided to make it a combination orchard and herb garden. First, instead of sheet mulching, we'll build a small chicken 'playpen' - something to keep them in just during the day. We'll have the chickens work for us at ripping up the last of that grass and turning the soil and eating the bugs. And adding manure! And then we'll move them to another section and let them keep going, all through the  autumn. Then, come winter rains, we'll plant some citrus - a couple kinds of small lemons, a lime or two, and maybe a mandarin or clementine - and make them fruit tree guilds, somewhat like a permaculture idea, with all kinds of herbs surrounding the trees, and lots of mulch because there must be mulch. Paths will wend gently through, oh yes, birds will sing - in my imagination it's a wonderful little copse of trees. We'll see how that actually goes and share all the details with you.

It always seems strange to plan winter veg while still harvesting summer veg, but that's the way it rolls if you want fresh produce all winter long. I must say I'm starting to have a hankering again for fresh spinach, and along about May I thought I'd never say that again. :)