July 2013

The "Opps" Files

. . . Jul 25, 2013 | posted by Josephine
One of our lazy dogs, Georgia, eating a carrot

Another chapter in hands-on learning from the “Oops” files.  We had such a problem with the squash bugs last year that we only did one early planting of squash this season rather than try to battle the bugs all summer long.  Sounds pretty smart, huh?  Turns out that, in a pinch, the squash bugs do quite well on cantaloupe.  Now that I think about it, it seems fairly obvious that such a pernicious pest would find something else to eat.  I suppose we thought they would just leave, or die, or at least fail to thrive.  On the contrary, they seem to be doing quite well.  The same cannot be said for the cantaloupe plants, several of which have already kicked the bucket.  Mary Scarberry of Lazy Dog Farms tells me that her trap cropping has been working well.  She plants squash to lure the bugs away from the cash crop, then torches them with a flame thrower.  No joke.  I guess we will have to give that a try.  Besides being effective it sounds really FUN in a sick, sadistic sort of way. 

And speaking of lazy dogs, Randy found a nest of baby rabbits while weeding the herb garden, which is right in front of the house and right under the long noses of our three terriers.  I guess it is time to give up hope on any help from them.

My new 4X4 wheelchairReady for some good news?  Randy got his new all-terrain wheelchair!  He will be able to use it to traverse softer ground, wetter soil, taller grass and bumpier ground – greatly increasing the areas of the farm he has access to and even making it possible for him to visit parts of the farm he hasn’t seen since we got a tour in the real estate agent’s Gator before we bought the place.  The chair was purchased by Mississippi Rehab Services which helps people with disabilities find new careers.

Tomatoes or Drip Tape

. . . Jul 18, 2013 | posted by randy
This is what the looked like later in the month

Today I spent three hours laying drip irrigation line on seven beds of cucumbers and melons.  This task would have taken thirty minutes had I done it two weeks ago, but now the plants are vining everywhere and I had to painstakingly lace the tape along the ground and under the plants.  Luckily I was in a good mood (even though it was hot), and I was able watch myself with some perspective and laugh.   I thought we weren’t going to do stupid inefficient stuff anymore.

Randy and I had decided to double the size of the garden, double the size of our CSA and add another market this year because we thought we could be much more efficient and effective with our labor – the one thing that we would not be able to double.  Last year we spent a lot of time doing stupid stuff.  We had lots of tractor problems and we were still figuring out how to best use our equipment.  The epic battle with the squash bugs sucked up a lot of time.  We lost.  It seems like Randy spent the whole month of August weeding the sweet potatoes after we let the weeds get away from us.  At least we had the good sense to give up on the peanuts.

So why, in 2013, am I spending three hours doing a thirty minute task?  I have proof that setting up irrigation on the cucurbits was on the workplan for the evening of Saturday, July 13th, at which point it as already overdue.   But it got bumped in favor of more urgent activities – like planting the cucumbers that were looking worse by the day in the greenhouse.  If I didn’t get them planted I’d have to toss them and start over.  And I efficiently and effectively disked and made beds for the neighboring sweet corn at the same time as the cucumbers.  So I had to plant the sweet corn while the beds were soft and easy for the seeder and before the weeds got a jump start – or I would have to disk and make beds all over again and that mid-October first frost date is bearing down on us … and so on.   As far as our work plan goes “this will be more work later” is not a compelling argument compared to “this will be impossible later.”  Sometimes we end up doing stupid stuff not for lack of planning or foresight, but simply because we get backed into a corner.

Despite the fact that the Johnson grass took over the potatoes, a third of the tomatoes never got staked, only one pepper variety will ripen without rotting, and a million other problems, we have managed to grow a lot more vegetables this year.  On the other hand, I think we are working harder - the slow down I remember from last July and August has not yet materialized.   In his book You Can Farm, Joel Salatin cautions against spending too much money on things that save time, especially if you are the kind of slacker who watches TV.  That advice was not meant for me.  Excessive frugality paired with a chronic overestimation of my abilities can be an obstacle to making sound farming decisions.   Not to mention the fact that I am prone to running myself into the ground before taking a break (but I’m working on it).

In the end I got the drip tape in place, the header line hooked up and the water turned on.  Just in time for rain.  Oh no, I thought, maybe I should have been picking tomatoes (rain make them split) or preparing the plots for fall plantings (just a couple short weeks away)… but whatever I “should” have been doing, at least there is one more thing I can check off the list. 

Sweet Corn Attempt #3

. . . Jul 17, 2013 | posted by Josephine
Moon over Rosie

Here at Tubby Creek farm, we just planted sweet corn attempt #3.  Our first two plantings this spring failed to germinate.   Whether it was cold, wet weather, hungry crows, or a combination of the two we don’t know.  Last year we learned the hard way that sweet corn will not set in hot weather.  Temperatures above 90 degrees can render the pollen sterile.  We think that our corn planted now will tassel in mid-September and be ready to harvest in early October – but it is a gamble.  We have never grown fall corn.  Our copy of the Southeastern US 2012 Vegetable Crop Handbook says that fall sweet corn is not recommended for Mississippi.  But it also says fall tomatoes, peas, and carrots are not recommended, as well as any beets or spinach ever – so we generally ignore the Handbook anyway.  

For the last couple weeks at the market, True Vine Farm had been selling conventional sweet corn grown on a neighboring farm that they advertised as non-GMO.   That got me thinking…I knew GMO sweet corn existed, but I didn’t think it was on the market.  How wrong I was!  Syngenta introduced Bt sweet corn years ago, but starting in 2012 teamed up with Monsanto to make Roundup Ready Bt sweet corn available.  I couldn’t find any information about what percentage of US sweet corn acreage is genetically modified, but it is definitely out there on supermarket shelves and farm stands.

Bt sweet corn accelerates the man versus bug arms race.  We know that Roundup Ready crops have led to the emergence of “superweeds” and increased use of herbicides in general.  Just the other day they were dousing the soybean field across the street via airplane.  As an ecological farmer, I am concerned about Bt resistance in caterpillars.  Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterium that is toxic to Lepidoptera larvae when ingested.  It is a safe, effective biological pest control that we use judiciously and in concert with whole systems planning for pest control.  We apply Bt to the plant, the bacterium eventually dies or is washed off when it rains, the toxicity isn’t omnipresent in the plant as with GMO sweet corn.

A recent study suggests that I may have cause for concern from a health perspective as well.  Researchers in Australia teamed up with farmers in the US to compare pigs raised for slaughter on GM or non-GM, but otherwise identical, diets of corn and soy.  Pigs were used because of their physiological similarity to humans.  The punch line is that after 90 days (the lifespan of a feeder pig) on an exclusively GM diet, pigs had a significantly greater incidence of severe stomach inflammation and enlarged uteri.  I read the article, and I read a couple statements refuting its findings – and I found the rebuttals to be rather weak, which leads me to believe that the study may be rather strong.

All this makes me think about the acres and acres of corn and soy all around us, and how everyone here calls us “gardeners” instead of farmers (that is a rant for another newsletter) because we don’t grow row crops.  And about the Farm Bill policies that pay my neighbors to grow acres and acres of GM corn and soy so Americans can eat too much cheap meat and processed foods to fuel our “obesity epidemic’ that we all have to pay for again as a public health issue.

And yet again, I have managed to turn this newsletter into a major downer.  It is refreshing to be able to leave behind the tangled mess of the American food system simply by walking out the door into the garden where we are just trying to grow food that is real and good.  In fact, I think I will do just that.

How to Cut Okra

. . . Jul 16, 2013 | posted by randy
How to Cut Okra

While in many Cajun kitchens okra is sought after summer treat many cannot stand the sliminess. Here is a quick tip in cutting the okra before cooking the reduces the sliminess drastically.


Keep the pod intack.

Okra should look like this when cut











Here is an image showing where to cut.

Cut here

Hope this helps

A Few Cool Days

. . . Jul 16, 2013 | posted by Josephine
Cover crop seeds

This week we got things done.  The potatoes are mostly dug.  I got tired of all that quality time with the pitch fork (the soles of my feet are sore from stomping on it) so we took a leap of faith and hooked the plow up to the tractor.  Since Rosie only kicks out about 10 horsepower (which is to say the same as a 9-14 foot motor boat, a 2 stage air compressor, and half as much as our riding lawn mower), she can’t pull the plow very deep.  It took three beds and a lot of sliced potatoes to figure out how to get them out of the ground without damaging a significant proportion of the tubers, but in the end it worked brilliantly.  Unfortunately we couldn’t make it work for the fingerlings, so those I had to resort to the trusty digging fork.  

Wayne came back with his big tractor and worked up another two acre plot for us.  He also knocked down the three acre field of Johnson grass that we are still trying to figure out how to manage.  I got the cover crop seeded and disked in.  It is a custom blend of soybeans, cowpeas, sun hemp, sudangrass and sunflowers.  The last round of melons has been seeded in the greenhouse, and then re-seeded after some naughty mice dug up and ate every seed.  Next year’s leeks have been seeded.   Fall cabbage and Brussels sprouts are popping up in their seed trays.  Randy has been hoeing up a storm in the sweet potatoes and mulching the chard so that we can try to hold it over until fall.  The whole garden got watered but we can’t take any credit for that.  After two days of agony watching dark clouds pass by all around us, we got a good soaking rain from 3 am to 5 am Saturday morning.

It is amazing how much work we can get done when the temperatures are a little cooler.  Not only does the temperature govern our productivity, it also governs my mood.  At 85 degrees I am optimistic, satisfied and enthusiastic.  At 95 degrees I am agitated, frustrated and discouraged.  Hopelessness and despair dawn around 100 degrees.  When it is hot out, I oscillate wildly between a state of frantic, angry panic and the absentminded lethargy of depression.  Ah, don’t you just love summer?  If you want to know how things are going on the farm, ask Randy.  I probably won’t be able to tell until September, when my rational brain comes back.