Saturday, July 25, 2009

Field trip to Boggy Creek Farm

On Saturday morning, Jack and I took an early morning trip to Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre organic farm located two miles from downtown Austin. Boggy Creek Farm is one of Austin's most beloved treasures. We are lucky to have such a wonderful place to visit.

As we approached the farm, we drove across a large empty watershed. Jack said, "That's Boggy Creek." On the way back home, I snapped a quick picture. As you can see, the creek is as dry as a bone.
Boggy Creek

Luckily, the farm is going strong despite the D-4 drought, and getting ready for fall planting. We arrived early, before the official opening hour of 9 a.m.; the staff were still readying the market tables.
Welcome to Boggy Creek Farm

Boggy Creek Farm's market tables are a feast for the senses. Near the front of the market stand, fresh greens and cherry tomatoes were already laid out in neat rows.
Cherry tomatoes and greens

Behind those were several varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and squash.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and squash

Onions and red potatoes were also available for purchase. The tall gentleman in the hat is carefully polishing each onion with a clean towel to remove any dirt.
Onions, red potatoes and tomatoes

Bell peppers, poblano peppers and okra filled several straw baskets.
Peppers and okra

One of the farm's helping hands, Maria, is laying out bundles of Asian long beans that were harvested this morning. It doesn't get any fresher than this, folks.
Pepper table at Boggy Creek Farm

Here we have bunches of fresh native greens -- pigweed amaranth and lamb's quarters. Purslane was also available.
Native greens

In the building behind the market tables, there are refrigerators full of all sorts of goodies: locally-produced cheeses, yogurt and milk, fresh eggs, and local humanely-raised grassfed bison and lamb, as well as desserts, pastries, and books. The sign on the front of the building reflects the farm's "Best of Austin" award from the Austin Chronicle.
Boggy Creek Farm

After making our purchases (cherry tomatoes and eggplant), we left the market stand and walked around the farm. The farmhouse was built in the 1840s. The owners, Carol Ann Sayle and Larry Butler, live on the premises.
The 1840s farmhouse at Boggy Creek

Pepper plants are shielded from the unrelenting heat in this hoop house.
Field of peppers

Creamer peas (or are those long beans?) flourish next door to the peppers.
Creamer pea field at Boggy Creek Farm

Here we see a fresh okra harvest in progress. Tomatoes are in the background.
Okra field at Boggy Creek Farm

Before heading home, we visited the Hen House, full of healthy, happy hens.
The Hen House at Boggy Creek Farm

The hens got a special treat this morning - cherry tomatoes that were a bit past their prime for the market tables.
Hens feasting on tomatoes

I wish I knew what type of hens they were. Their feathers are beautiful.
Happy hens

Beautiful hen

I apologize to you, dear reader, and to the subject, Rusty Roo, for this terrible shot, but his plumage is so striking, I felt I had to share what I had.
Rusty Roo

One last look before we leave at a field of sunflowers and chard.
Field at Boggy Creek Farm

The market stand is open Wednesday and Saturday, 9 to 1. You can read more about Boggy Creek Farm, the hens, the farm's helpers and how they're dealing with the drought, from Carol Ann herself. She's a regular contributor to The Atlantic magazine's On the Farm column, and her stories are always both educational and entertaining.

We'll be back!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

look closely

Honestly, if I took some wide shots of my front and back yards and posted them here, you'd wonder why I even bothered with a garden blog. Currently, the "big picture" view emphasizes all the negatives: the drought, the pests, the heat, the suboptimal vegetable production. But if you looked closely, maybe you would see what I see -- the little victories. I go looking for these little vignettes, nearly every morning and afternoon. It's what keeps me going.

For example, take a peek at this little skipper. Never mind he's the only one of his species I saw the day I took this picture, or that there's all of 10 blossoms on this lantana bush, which would normally take over this bed. In this singular moment, all I see is one fortunate skipper enjoying a bounteous feast. (And if you looked even closer, catty-corner to the skipper, you'd see an ant feasting on nectar. Boy, but is that one lucky ant!)
Skipper on lantana

Or, take the Turk's Cap. Some would ask, "Why is this plant half the size it was last year?" or, "Where are the hummingbirds that normally visit?" But all I see is this luscious, ruby-red oasis waiting for one lucky winged creature. Turk's cap

Are these ruined tomatoes, or the remains from a Feast of the Cardinals?
Birds or bugs?

Here's how optimistic I am -- I found this Elfin Thyme at Dromgoole's, and bought it to plant in the dry, parched crevices of my uneven stone walkway. Never mind that the Wooly Thyme I bought the same day has died already -- look how fresh this thyme looks!
Elfin thyme

Never mind that my yellow lantana is just a scrawny little stick in the ground -- look at this blossom! Just wait til next year, after a winter of El Niño's refreshing rains. Why, I bet I'll have to hack it back to the ground with a scythe just to get in the front door.
Yellow lantana

My husband, Jack, sees it too, and by "it", I mean the positives. The happy stuff. The "that's kinda neat" things. For instance, one day he was watching a honey bee making its way, blossom by blossom, through the bed of pink and yellow lantana, and noticed the bee was only drinking from the yellow flowers - not from the pink. And the next morning, I noticed that the lantana blossoms were largely pink in color (with no bees around), but by afternoon, many of the pink blossoms had turned yellow, and the bees had come to visit.
Old-fashioned lantana
By the way, Jack really does not like bees. Intellectually, he understands their place in the food chain, but psychologically, he's been stung once too many times. Literally.

And now, a picture of Blue Daze, just because I think the color is so fabulous. This plant is doing really well right now.
Blue daze

To end today's "accentuate the positive" post, I give you this picture of my tomato-red dwarf canna lily that was so spectacular-looking back in May.
dwarf canna lily

Today, its spent blossoms look like kraft paper. But aren't its seed pods interesting? And if you look closely, you can see a fresh new blossom starting to form.
One bloom closes, another opens...

Never mind I accidentally broke off the new blossom about 30 seconds after taking this picture...sigh.

Wordless Wednesday

Bug on rudbeckia

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 2009 Bloom Day

Morning glories.
Morning glories

Globe amaranth.
Gomphrena (globe amaranth)

Dwarf canna (yellow).
Yellow dwarf canna

Yellow buddeleia.
Yellow buddleia

Zinnias.
Zinnias (Granny's Bouquet Mix)

Texas yellow bells.
Esperanza "Yellow Bells" (Tecoma stans)

"Bright Lights" cosmos.
Cosmos "Bright Lights"

Mexican milkweed.
Mexican milkweed

Not a bloom...
Spider web

Used to be blooms...
Baby pickling cucumbers

...are seed heads blooms?
Purple fountain grass

What else is blooming (no pics)? Blue daze, Pringle's bee balm, blackfoot daisies, lantana (pink, purple, yellow and white), coral honeysuckle (barely), Turk's cap, lavender, white agapanthus, Dahlberg daisy, rudbeckia, white ruellia

What's blooming in other people's yards that I wish were blooming in mine: crepe myrtle (purple and white), Pride of Barbados, red yucca, coral vine, Texas sage

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It's tough being a farmer

Remember those sweet little yellow squash babies I'd hoped would make it? Three days later, they've succumbed to the same scourge as all the rest: blossom end rot.

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I knew I should have picked them on the 4th. Grrr!

There's several theories as to what causes blossom end rot, which affects not just squash, but other curcurbits (melons, cucumbers), as well as veggies in the nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant). Pretty much any plant that forms fruit is susceptible. From what I've read, blossom end rot is primarily a problem of calcium deficiency. Calcium plays an integral role in the formation of strong cell walls. Without adequate calcium, newly formed cells collapse and die. Because squash and other fruit grow fastest at the blossom end, that's where the problem becomes most apparent. As the fruit dies, bacteria, fungi and pests like my pill bug friends move in and make a big old hot mess of it all.

Unfortunately, as I've discovered, simply adding calcium-rich soil amendments doesn't always solve the problem. If the roots become damaged (through overly aggressive Garden Weaseling, for example), the plant can't take up the calcium. Both overwatering and underwatering can compromise a plant's ability to take up calcium from the soil. A soil pH that's too high reduces calcium uptake. And too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer just makes the problem worse, by pushing an already-stressed plant to Grow Faster! Grow Faster! Die Faster! Oops...

I don't believe lack of organic matter is contributing to the problem. The squash are planted in the same soil (Ladybug brand Hill Country Garden Soil) as the fruiting plants that are doing well - the Mickey Lee watermelons, the Juliet and Celebrity tomatoes and the pickling cucumbers - a soil rich in organic matter. I've watered the squash as often (or not) as the other veggies. I fertilized with Ladybug All-Purpose Fertilizer (8-2-4) once in May; perhaps that's too much nitrogen, but I doubt it.

The only other thing that occurs to me is that I purchased these squash plants as seedlings from a local nursery. Like most seedlings, they were planted in a peat mix. And as I recently read on a garden blog post (which I can't find now that I want to link to it), peat is wonderful at retaining water unless it's allowed to dry out, at which point it becomes a concrete-like root-suffocating substance impermeable to water. And in this drought, soil's gonna dry out at some point. (EDIT: I remember now: it was Cindy's RIPeat post at her blog, From My Corner of Katy, where I read about the hazards of peat in Central Texas gardens.)

OK, so I'm grasping at straws here. Lotsa talk, no answers. If anyone has any ideas for remedying blossom end rot, I'm all ears. I wonder if Michelle's dealing with blossom end rot over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Sigh...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Possums and leafminers and pill bugs, oh my

The possums are on the attack again. They ran off with two baby Mickey Lee watermelons while I was out of town on vacation. Now at least one possum is back for more.
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Ants were crawling in and out of the teeth marks, so I cut it off the vine and sliced it open. The rind was such a light green, I thought maybe I'd gotten the watermelon and honeydew seedlings mixed up. Nope - it's a watermelon. Or, rather, was.
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The meat of the melon looked a bit mealy, so maybe it was just as well. It smelled super good, though. Even though possums are reportedly resistant to rabies, I thought it best not to take a taste. Hopefully I'll get a taste of this one.
mickey lee watermelon

The leafminer damage on the leaves is new. It wasn't there yesterday when I took this photo.
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I've erected a chicken wire fence around this patch, to keep the critters away from the melon and the squash. Yes, finally, I have squash that look like they might make it.
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yellow squash

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I didn't notice it at the time, but the camera doesn't lie - see the teeny-tiny orange bug on the squash? Hope it's a good bug and not a bad one. I better pick these soon.
yellow squash

I figured out what was eating the squash. Pill bugs - otherwise known as roly-polys or land shrimp (they're not actually insects, but crustaceans). Staking the plants hasn't helped much - they can crawl up to the squash.
pill bug on squash leaf

They were attracted to the squash that were incompletely pollinated and rotting away at the blossom end. Unfortunately, they continued to feed on the healthy squash, too. So I set a trap for them with an old watermelon rind, to lure them away from the squash. (Sorry - yes, I need to weed. If only it weren't so dang hot!)
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It seems to be working. Pill bugs are a sign of a healthy, pesticide-free garden, and they do help break down decaying organic matter. But in numbers this large, they can quickly decimate crops.
melon rind pill bug trap

I dug up the dirt under the rind and moved it to the opposite side of the yard, and sprinkled some diatomaceous earth under and around the squash to get rid of the rest.

Despite the heat, the chard's still going strong.
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The coneflowers don't mind the heat, either.
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I desperately need to cut back the flame acanthus, but I hate to do it when gulf frittilaries are feeding on the last remaining blossoms.
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This is the first time this canna has bloomed. The other's more of a tomato-red; this one's watermelon-colored.
canna lily

Happy Independence Day!