Another year has passed on the farm, and as the old year passes by, it leaves changes much like a glacier grinding and pushing its way to the sea. 2011 brought lots of new equipment and experiences to the farm, including a new John Deere tractor, and a much older yet still very effective 8n Ford tractor. The two tractors work great in tandam, making the hard work of yester-years into play time on full sized toys. The two tractors share lots of interchangable attachments including a back blade, brush hog, finish mower and more. Once we got up to speed on how the tractors worked and what we could do with them, everything changed. Tasks that were difficult became easy, and what was once impossible is now do-able.
With the power of many horses under our feet, we began to transform the land directly in front of my home from a thicket of brush into a smooth flowing lawn, complete with a meandering stream which runs through the center. This will be the land where I continue planting cherries, berries and fruit trees, as I’ve nearly run out of space close to the house. I’ve also found time to build a herb garden with lot’s of old field stones.
The year has also been shaped a great deal by the construction of a new shed. The idea began as a chicken coop, but as soon as I began construction of the shed in my minds eye I envisioned a work shop and extra storage for many of my tools. The shed demanded a good deal of my time, and I’ve had lots of help with the design and general construction. That project is now complete for the year, and the workshop is quickly being stocked and organized. I’ve built a study building that should last for decades, and its large enough that I have extra room for future use.
While the sun was hidden from view I put together my first book, which expands upon my first few years in the garden. After returning from work, and putting away my shed construction tools, I would edit, layout and revise my story, producing a 70 + page tale of trials and some errors on my path to master gardening. You can read more about the book by clicking here.
In 2009 and 2010 I had well over 100 tomato plants die due to late blight, and I lost the majority of the tomato harvest to this pest. It’s a difficult thing to loose so much hard work to something which is hard to see, but in 2011 I fought back with the conviction of a four star general. I drew up “battle plans” and stuck to the program, using Epson Salt and “Dragoon Dust” to protect the plants and destroy the enemy.
The blight managed to kill a plant or two, but I treated the outbreak much like the CDC would treat a case of SARS. I carefully covered the infected plants with a garbage bag, then ripped the roots from the soil, being carefull to isolate the infected plant. After torching the exposed plant matter, I redoubled my efforts in blight prevention. I took a doctor’s approach towards treatment, and gave the plants a heavy dose of Miracle Grow to keep them strong, while dusting the area exposed with an extra serving of anti-fungal agents.
At the end of the season it was clear that the blight had not succeded in robbing my harvest yet again. The tomatoes flowed from the garden like water spraying from a badly leaking hose.
With the endless bounty that streamed in from the garden, we all learned the fine points of food preservation, including canning, freezing and even vacuum sealing veggies. 2011 has been a great year for the garden, with two exceptions: Cucumbers and Zucchini.
I only managed to grow a few cucumbers, unlike past years when I would require a back pack in order to pick a row of cucks. The zucchini wasn’t nearly as bad, but it also suffered due to a thousand bites from pesky ground hogs. Overall, I’m very happy to see so much progress in hind sight. I’ve grown a great deal this year, perhaps more then the last five years combined. I’ve extended my garden season into the winter with Broccolli, Cualiflower and Brussels Sprouts, and I’ve demonstrated stubborn commitment towards shed construction.
Everyone on the farm has been learning and working together very well, and I think the outcome of this years labor is a testement to that effort. I hope to redouble my planning in 2012, and deliver even better results in the new year.
Happy New Year !
– I.T. Farmer
You may also like:
For most of my life, I have taken one thing for granted more then anything else: Dirt. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent endless hours of my youth playing in dirt, ridding my bike through it, even wading through mud in our pond. I didn’t realize however, that all life on Earth is made at least partly from dirt. I didn’t understand until recently just how important, and Alive this stuff is.
A world of organisims, bugs, bacteria, and worms make their home in this loose mixture of minerals, sand and bio-mass. Plants emerge only when the soil is alive. Without life in the dirt, the recycle of life giving nutrients stops. When plants do not grow, the rain will carry away the soil, and leave behind a desert, as is happening in many places on our Earth.
I’ve been watching documentaries about how our world is changing, and I know I have a part in this process. I try to keep this blog away from ideological subjects, and away from my own beliefs, but this is one issue, I must discuss. Just typing or reading this blog is using energy, which may be causing changes half a world away. For this reason, I will set a goal. To help offset the amount of carbon I produce, I hope to make at least five barrels of Bio-Char this winter, and begin composting all of the paper I consume at home. I can then add this Bio-Char and composted plant fibers to the soil, hopefully improving it greatly for next years garden.
Late blight has ruined the tomato patch, and as a way to look “on the bright side of life”, I’m treating this outbreak as a learning opportunity. I’ve split up the patch into different zones, each with an identifying marker. The first zone is a control, as I’ve learned from the scientific method. In the control zone, I will not use any treatment, and see how the plants fair with no intervention. In the photo above, the control zone is shown on the left. In the center is zone E, and on the right is zone F. These have the most promising results thus far. Zone E is showing excellent new growth, and I’m encouraged to the point of hoping for some tomatoes out of this area. Zone F is not as bad as the control zone, but still not good. The plants in this zone look bad, but are not getting worse. I may section off another zone, and apply both treatments from E and F to the new zone.
I’m not following the scientific method completely however, as there are 20 + different types of tomatoes spread out and mixed up in the patch. I’ve tried to make the zones large enough to contain multiple varieties in the hopes that I’ll be able to tell if it is one particular tomato gene that is a factor, rather then just the treatment.
All in all, I’ve certainly learned what hasn’t worked, and I’ll definately grow blight resistant varieties in the future.
So there it is, Late Blight, day four, and the tomato plants are showing the devastating destruction it always leaves behind. I like to keep things positive, and you should know I have way too many tomatoes in my bedroom and hallway, so I’m very happy with the harvest. I wanted to show what this affliction will do to a tomato/potato plant. Had we left the tomatoes on the vine to ripen they would all be mush by now.
Frank Sinatra once sang “every cloud must have a silver lining”, and I’ve found the silver in this situation. At one end of the tomato patch, there is a small green island untouched and unaffected by the evil blight spores. This is the home to my Mexican Husk Tomatillo’s, which technically are not tomatoes, but they sure do look similar. The veggies that decend from the leaves of this plant have a husk similar to the one on corn cobs, and the center edible portion is usually green in color, with some variation depending on the variety grown.
Here we see the husk in more detail. When it dries, and begins to crack open, the tomatillos are ripe, and can be eaten. I personally do not like the taste, but their blight resistance is very attractive, and several members of my family absolutely love them. They will always have a place in the tomato patch.
Today is my late day at work, so this morning, I met up with Kim to pick whatever was ready for harvest. When we got to the Melon Patch, we noticed many of the plants are turning brown, and decided it was time to try one of the Melons. Since we knew they would not grow any more, there was nothing to loose. I was quite surprised when we cut open a cantaloupe, and found a beautiful golden fruit inside. The taste was absolutely wonderful, and it made my Friday morning that much better.
In total, we gathered about four shopping bags full of cantaloupe and muskmelon. Soon more help arrived, including Sandy, Davie, Maurice, Jess, Jen, and The Little Gardener. That’s when I got the bad news. Jen asked me “Is this blight”, while holding a browned tomato. I looked, panicked, and ran out to the tomato patch. Late blight has found it’s way to dozens of my tropical plants. Everyone agreed that it would be best to pick the tomatoes green, and let them ripen indoors. Now it’s time for work, and I’m seriously contemplating calling in sick, so I can gather as many as possible before they are all mush. It’s not all bad thought. We have hundreds of green tomatoes, and I’m going to use this years crop to investigate methods to battle the blight. It seems like this will be a yearly affliction, so I’m going to learn all I can. Learning how to battle this blight might just be the silver lining to this ominous cloud.
Melons are something I didn’t think I was very good at growing, as last years melons never got bigger then the one in the photo above. This year, I’ve changed three things: Manure, Water and Weed Cover. These changes have caused the plants to grow much more rapidly, and set fruit far earlier then last year. We used black weed cover, which helps prevent weeds, but also heats the soil up. I’ve also made it a point to water huge swaths of the garden daily due to the high tempuratures. I usually get started around 7:30 and finish up well after 10.
I’ve been adding composted Rabbit Manure to the last portion of the garden, where we’ve planted winter squashes. The plants in this area were all started from seed, after everything else was planted, and they were a bit slow starting. I’m hoping to encourage them to grow faster with some good old black dirt. This manure has been cooking for about 6 months, and I had to wheel it by hand from the other side of the valley where it was piled up. So far the plants have responded quite well.
For the most part, I spend a good amount of time in the garden alone weeding, watering, and turning the soil, but every few days I get a whole bunch of helpers at once. Many hands makes short work for sure ! When I get all of these helpers weeding at once, I can relax easy at the end, knowing we’ve put forth a huge effort in the war on weeds. The garden has very few weeds this year. I should find some pictures of last years garden… I was a bit lazier then…
I’ve had a few tomatoes affected by some sort of affliction. I’m not sure what this pest is, but I’m fairly confident it is not Late Blight, as the whole tomato patch would surely be in ruins if it were. I’ve ripped out three plants, all of the same variety that showed damage. I’m not taking any chances this year, after loosing several hundred plants last year. If you can identify this affliction, please leave a comment with it’s name.
The rest of the tomatoes are doing great. I have Not been watering them, since I do not want to foster the conditions for blight. The tomatoes seems to be getting enought water though, as their leaves show no signs of need. If they begin to look wilted, I’ll definately give them a sprinkle.