Monday, August 23, 2010

Seed Saving

A cool rainy august afternoon is the perfect time to start some end of season rituals. The first seeds I ever saved and used the following season were from the sweet and abundant sungold cherry tomatoes. I followed the instructions of Ms. Martha Stewart and successfully participated in the circle of life.

It makes what the company Monsanto is doing all the more evil. If anyone is unfamiliar, Monsanto is a chemical company that began genetically modifying and patenting seeds. Monsanto thought that since they modified their "roundup ready" seeds to resist their patented weed killer, "roundup" they had the right to also patent those seeds. Weeds are a huge problem in our little home gardens but in industrial mono agriculture it is magnified by the thousands. It is simply too time consuming, costly and laborious to weed hundreds of acres. Monsanto made the farmers believe that they had the answer to all their problems. Farms bought the seeds, bought the roundup and basically made a deal with the devil.

Once you were contracted to Monsanto and their products you lost the ability to perform one of the most timeless rituals in agriculture: seed saving. Monsanto made you buy new seeds each year since these new GM crops could only produce one year. The seeds were duds. Farmers traded in their mechanical threshers for good and were roped into a never ending cycle of seed and weed killing chemical purchases.

That however, is not even the worst part; now the neighbors got involved. If you had a field next door to a farmer under contract with Monsanto and you decided to forgo the company and live with some weeds and save your seeds you could also face some trouble it turns out. Say a mighty wind blew some of your neighbors Monsanto seeds into your field and Monsanto came by and tested a few of your crops, as they had a tendency to do, (rest assured if you weren't on the Monsanto train you were red flagged.) the next thing you know you are getting dragged to court by a billion dollar company for patent infringement and they will try to take your farm away from you. These struggling farms already at a disadvantage just did not have the spare time and energy and extra money to spend on litigation. Some people lost generation old farms. They lost their livelihood. So that a few people could get MEGA rich. Sound familiar? Finally in 2009 Monsanto has come under scrutiny from the government and there are actual investigations launched. Let's hope some things change.

Here is a little excerpt from Wikipedia if you were still feeling a tinge of sympathy for the devil:

The 1940s saw Monsanto become a leading manufacturer of plastics, including polystyrene, and synthetic fibers. Since then, it has remained one of the top 10 US chemical companies. Other major products have included the herbicides 2,4,5-T, DDT, and Agent Orange used primarily during the Vietnam War as a defoliant agent (later proven to be highly carcinogenic to any who come into contact with the solution), the artificial sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet), bovine somatotropin (bovine growth hormone (BST)), and PCBs.[5] Also in this decade, Monsanto operated the Dayton Project, and later Mound Laboratories in Miamisburg, Ohio, for the Manhattan Project, the development of the first nuclear weapons and, after 1947, the Atomic Energy Commission.


So that is why it is all the more important to buy organic non-GM food and save your seeds! Today I saved some seeds from our batch of sungold tomatoes, heirloom variety tomatoes, cucumbers, patty pan squash and zucchini.

Most of us know that membrane that surrounds tomato seeds. It is there to buy the seed some time, namely the winter, before the seed begins to germinate and sprout a new plant. If all goes well the membrane dissolves at just the right time in the spring and the circle continues.
In order to save those seeds we need to separate the seeds from the membrane and halt the natural progression by drying the seeds and storing them in a cool dry place until we are ready to use them. The best way to separate the membrane is to let the seeds ferment in a jar or cup. After about a week the seeds drop to the bottom of the container and the membrane separates and grows a lovely mold on it. All you have to do is wait for that to happen and then carefully scrape off the membrane and wash off your seeds over a strainer. Then lay them out to dry on a plate with a rag or paper towel. After a few weeks the seeds should be dry enough to scrape into a little envelop and stored away in a cool dry place for next year.

Cucumbers are very similar to tomatoes except you should really let the cucumbers rot before you try to take out the seeds. The cukes should be vine ripened, big, yellow and smushy.

All the squashes are pretty easy: you just scrape them seeds out, wash them off to remove any of the vegetable matter as it can cause mold, dry them on a plate with a rag or paper towel for a couple of weeks, label them and store them away.

You don't even need to have your own plants to do this. As long as your veggies are organic and hopefully not some hybrid, which can be hard to tell sometimes but hey, try it anyway, just supplement with some locally purchased seeds as well and see what happens. It is immensely satisfying!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A rite of passage

The squash has succumbed to over production and powdery mildew.

The lettuce is bolting and the beets long gone. But it is time for the Mediterranean debut: peppers, tomatoes and eggplant.

It started with the lovely sungolds and now we are harvesting the gorgeous Italian eggplant and for lack of better terminology, regular eggplant. The peppers are turning their lovely hues, some green some left for red and some a purely color named black beauties. The chili peppers are doing well and the sweet banana peppers are big producers and yummy!

Oh and the greens we thought had to be collared greens are actually...BROCCOLI!

The july sowing white radishes are delicious and fast growers. The leeks are doing well but I don't know when to harvest them.

The garlic was small and this fall I want to plant rows and rows of it. Onion as well. We also want to plant more beans. And Brendan can never get enough tomatoes! Brendan wants a whole bed devoted to peppers. Maybe half peppers half eggplant. I would like more radishes. More watermelons and cantaloupe too! The list goes on!

I also would like to cut down the dang apple tree in the back yard and plant a peach tree. I CANNOT get enough peaches this time of year.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010



This is august so far. The tomatoes, after months of hot dry weather where they are like, in HEAVEN have started to ripen and we have probably picked about 4 of these quarts. Which by the way go for $3.49 at the co-op! The zinnias have deeply impressed me I have to say. After the beetle fiasco of July I had really lost hope. Their little skeletal silhouettes were discouraging to say the least. But BAM come august and they are pumping out flowers like the well is oil! (poor taste, sorry)
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That little guy is Hades, resident chicken herder. That's what he does. Chases and annoys all the other amimals.

This is a photo essay on harassment:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Harvest 1.1

Patty Pan squash


Late Blight Alert!
Late Blight, caused by Phytophthora infestans was found on tomato plants earlier this week on Tuesday July 20th and today July 23rd in Hadley Massachusetts. These are the first two positive diagnosis that has come into the UMass Plant Diagnostic lab this season and the first confirmed cases in Massachusetts. The source of the inoculum is unknown at this point but it is suspected that the spores came from long distance transport or a volunteer potato plant in the area. Although the disease is not known to overwinter in the Northeast as of yet, overwintering can not be ruled out. A sample has been sent to the North Carolina State University to detrmine the clonal lineage. This information may provide us with some clue as to where the initial source of the pathogen came from. Suspected plant samples should be sent the UMass Plant Diagnostic lab immediately (413-545-3209) for confirmation. We would expect to see late blight show up along rivers or where fog tends to collect. These foggy areas should be inspected closely and frequently. Conventional potato growers should now be using systemic fungicides on their fields. Tomato crops should be protected with fungicides specific to downy mildew and inspected regularly for symptoms of blight. For a list of recomended fungicides see this weeks full late blight report.

The murmur of blight is vibrating through the farms and gardens across the pioneer valley. It can obviously do some real damage to crops and farmers are advised to literally rip up and dig under any plant that looks infected.

This is what our alarming tomato looks like:

I am not really worried as of yet but only time will tell.

A great summer recipe

Fusilli with Creamy Zucchini and Basil Sauce

* 1 pound zucchini (with blossoms, if possible)
* vegetable oil to come ½ inch up the side of a skillet
* 1 pound fusilli (or any short, stubby pasta)
* 3 Tbsp butter
* 3 Tbsp olive oil
* 1 tsp flour, dissolved in 1/3 cup milk
* salt
* 2/3 cup roughly chopped basil
* 1 egg yolk, beaten lightly with a fork
* ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
* ¼ cup freshly grated Romano cheese

First, put a large pot of water up to boil. Slice zucchini and blossoms into pieces 3 inches long and 1/8 inch thick. Heat the oil and fry the zucchini sticks in batches, without crowding the pan, until they are light brown, turning occasionally. As each batch is done, transfer to paper towels to drain. When the pasta water comes to a boil, add 2 Tbsp salt and stir in the pasta and allow to cook while you prepare the sauce. Melt half the butter and all the oil in a skillet. When the butter foams, turn the heat down and stir in the flour-and-milk mixture, a little at a time, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Add the fried zucchini sticks, ¼ tsp salt and the basil and stir gently. Off the heat, swirl in the remaining butter, egg yolk and grated cheese. Strain the pasta when it is al dente and toss it with the sauce in a large serving bowl and serve immediately.

thanks to the Kitchen Garden Farm

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Kind of elusive. A short tail and a small head. I love her anyway.

A dry july

Baseball bat zucchini. I used a small screwdriver for scale

I thought I planted muskmelon or some other kind of cantaloupe in with the other squashes and watermelon but this is what is growing there

This is a gord (no idea what kind) that is growing in the winter squash wonderland and now up and over the unstackable wood pile in the back yard. cute.

The sunflowers I planted along the foundation of the house got stunted and didn't grow as tall as I had hoped. I might have ordered the wrong seeds but I think that they were supposed to be at least 5 or 6 feet tall and these are barley 3. Another factor that might have contributed to their limited growth was the beetle problem at the beginning of the season. The beetles ate so much of the baby leaves of the plant it might have been hard to photosynthesize. I also wonder about the quality of the soil around the foundation. We have records of multiple termite treatments to the foundation before we bought the house. I don't know how water soluble the pest control is or how long it lasts but I am always wary of what chemicals do to the soil.

Friday, July 16, 2010

After the rain

sunset thunderstorms make for the best light. the sky was turning bright pink as the sun receded into the west and zeus the kitty made some good company wandering the garden catching the light.

Pumpkin Patch

this is not really a pumpkin patch as it is a winter squash wonderland. there were some doubts as to how well veggies would thrive in this corner of the back yard as it only gets afternoon light but as illustrated here, it is a very nice spot for squash.

mid day in july you can see the evolutinary survival tactics of the squash as they wilt to a scary degree in order to preserve energy. this has been such a hot hot summer so far I am glad they have a home where there is just a wee bit of shade.

this is how the cukes cope in the full sun of the front yard:

cukes are in the same family as the winter and summer squash/zucchini family (gourds technically): Cucurbitaceae
therefore they handle the heat in the same manner: sadly. not to worry as the heat of the day passes the leaves perk up. kind of shows how i feel mid afternoon actually...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Bitches

Dorothy still looks at me just like this. She's the white one. From left to right: Rose, Dorothy, Blanche and Sofia. (admittedly Rose and Blanche are kind of interchangeable.)

Asiatic Beetles

I hate these beetles. Gardening in the community gardens for years I was not exposed to these pesky well, pests. They have eaten my basil, zinnias, lemon balm, tarrragon, sunflowers and mint. They have an appetite for babies. They have invaded my house. They really are something out of a horror movie. In my naivety I accused bunnies as being the pests and was cursing them high and low until my friend Sarah B pointed out that the munching seemed to come from the center of the leaves out.

Being an organic gardener there is little I can do at this point to stop them. For the smaller plants I think row cover while they get established will be the best deterrent. It does seem like if the plant gets big enough it can handle a little munching as displayed by the two basils that were already established when I put them in the ground. I will be doing more research and updating my findings. For now my best plan of action is to let the chickens free range in the front yard in the spring and fall and see if they can eat up any of the eggs, which I think are grubs?

Mission Statement

The Garden Rag is an attempt to journal my home garden. I am hoping to create a place to save photos, ideas, successes and failures. The journey begins halfway through the growing season at my first home garden.