This season has been very wet, cold, and cloudy. It has rained three times in August which is basically a record for eastern Kansas. Normally we experience a dry season in July and August.
The higher temperatures and sunny weather benefited my tomatoes and beans, and I finally got a decent harvest– a month late. I have produced six butternut squash that I will take a picture of later. Four of my squash vines seem to be determinate. They actually stopped growing and began to wither and die as soon as they produced a squash. Meanwhile, the entire squash bed is being overtaken by the Seminole Pumpkin which has luxuriant foliage yet no fruit yet. I probably won’t get mature fruit this season from the plant which is a shame, but I still have until the end of October before I call the season quits for cucurbits and nightshades. The above picture shows a basket of ripe tomatoes that were picked a few days before the less ripe ones in front. All of the beans were picked in one evening.
This year has had one of the wettest springs on record. In Kansas City, it rained about every other day in May and most of June. We get a maximum of one day a week of sunshine and the rest of the week is cloudy.
The pea harvest was surprisingly short. The heat and humidity kicked in very quickly which caused my Amish Snap Peas to yellow, but my family did enjoy several meals of snap peas with beef and rice!
I suppose this year balances the heatwave and drought of 2012, but too much rain and not enough sun stunts vegetative growth, as well as increase the likeliness of diseases like blight.
I really like the metal fencing that I used to stake my tomatoes and beans this year. The weed block fabric and cardboard flats do a good job suppressing the weeds when a blanket of straw is placed on top.
A mother rabbit was trying to build a nest by the collards. I put my row cover up to discourage her, but she still found a place to raise her family, evident by the babies that got caught in the fence. I took a picture of the two bunnies and took them to the creek away from my garden. I have a problem every year with baby bunnies getting trapped in the garden as they are too small to jump over a fence. I was actually tempted to keep one of them, but I figured it would be cruel to keep a wild animal when domestic rabbits are readily available.
Already my landrace butternut squash are producing. My squash vines look beautiful despite the wet, cloudy weather. I did add mycorrhizae to the soil this year for my all of my vegetables, and I have noticed that all of my crops are producing earlier compared to last year. I definitely think the mycorrhizae is the reason why my squash are producing early.
Despite the lush growth, one of my grafted German Johnson Tomatoes is suffering from what appears to be my old enemy, fusarium wilt. None of the other plants look infected. It is possible that the extra wet weather is causing a fusarium outbreak despite my efforts to prevent it (grafting and mycorrhizae).
Fortunately the other plants have no sign of fusarium wilt and have tomatoes developing. I saw a lone squash bug near my butternut squash that I killed on sight. I’ve already seen vine borer moths buzzing around, but the moschata species squash should be resistant to it.
Out of four grafted watermelons, I had only one successful graft. I grafted it to a Tetsukabuto hybrid squash. I have never seen a watermelon vine look as lush as this one does. If it produces good watermelon, I will graft again next year.
I’m growing sweet potatoes next to the watermelon. The black plastic helps, and the floating row covers keep the rabbits away. The plants have exploded with the hot weather, but more sun will grow them to a larger size sooner.
Hopefully we’ll get some sunny, dry weather for the Fourth of July!
Life has thrown curve balls at me the past few months, giving me some of the worst days as well as the best days of my life. The recent passing of my mother and the start of a new career have created a bipolar world for me. Growing food helps me heal, as I have joyful memories of my mom taking me to the local garden center as a kid. She taught me that food doesn’t begin in plastic packaging on a shelf lit by fluorescent lights, but food begins by planting a seed.
Food will only come into being if you nurture the seed– watering, weeding and monitoring for pests and diseases are critical for either eating directly or feeding to an animal that you will eat. So while I have not updated my site much with what’s growing, I have grown more types of edible crops than I have ever before.
My landrace collards that were the offspring of Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage and Long Island Improved Brussel Sprouts are coming along nicely. The landrace Chinese broccoli were planted late and some have bolted before growing large. We’ve had a lot of rain this spring and cool temperatures. The cool, overcast days may have also caused bolting since warm temperatures followed by a cold snap can trigger early bolting.
This year, I decided to invest in heavy duty wire fencing and more metal t-posts from Home Depot. I got tired of twined tomatoes and beans eventually collapsing and sagging. Using metal t-posts with wire fencing provides a more permanent and more aesthetically pleasing solution to staking pole beans and tomatoes.
While I try to use as many renewable and biodegradable materials as possible, I gave in and decided to use weed block fabric and black plastic mulch in my garden plots. I still am using cardboard flats underneath straw for smaller areas, but I wanted to kill out some of the mint that grows everywhere in my garden and deter squash bugs and other pests. For my butternut squash landrace and tomatoes, black weed block fabric with straw mulch was used.
For my sweet potatoes, landrace muskmelons and peppers, I am using black plastic mulch to heat the soil and suppress weeds.
My landrace butternut squash is coming along nicely, and I planted the squash about two weeks ago. This squash has been selected for shorter seasons and tolerance to lower nutrient levels and cooler temperatures. Hopefully the landrace squash will produce tasty fruit like most did last year. I planted a Seminole Pumpkin and several Calabaza Pumpkins to improve the squash bug resistance in this landrace.
One thing I’m doing differently this year to try and combat soil diseases is to inoculate my soil with beneficial mycorrhizae fungi. Already, I have noticed improvements in the size of sugar snap peas when compared to last year. The leaves are definitely larger. I have not seen any signs of fusarium wilt yet. While fusarium may come later, symbiotic mycorrhizae fungi supposedly suppresses pathogenic microorganisms as well as help plants improve nutrient uptake.
While grafting helps ward off soil diseases, not every variety of vegetable or fruit has a hybrid cultivar resistant to fusarium, verticillium, bacterial wilt or nematodes. Therefore, mycorrhizae is one of my few options to try with vegetables including legumes, peppers and ground cherries.
It has been several months since I’ve blogged, but that does not mean my green thumb has turned brown.
In fact, while I’ve slacked on my virtual gardening diary, I have started more types of seedlings than I have ever grown before. Stacks of cardboard flats and cardboard trays filled every usable bench in my basement, spare bedroom and on my patio. Edibles already established in my garden include tomatoes, landrace collards, giant ground cherries, landrace Chinese broccoli and sugar snap peas. I recently planted my landrace Cucurbita moschata squash– 10 plants– but soon I will be adding Seminole Pumpkin, calabaza and trombone zucchini.
This year, the types of heirloom tomatoes I am growing as grafted plants are the following: Green Zebra, Costoluto Genovese, German Johnson, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Chocolate Cherry, Black Krim, Black from Tula, Tommy Toe, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Arkansas Traveler, and Brandywine regular leaf (from Seed Savers).
Of course, why settle for about a hundred seedlings when you can have more? I admit, I am a hoarder of seeds and seedlings, and today I shared my obsession with other growers at the local plant exchange here in Kansas City! The 10th Annual Citywide Seed, Plant, and Bulb Exchange was held at the Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center.
Pollen counts have been ridiculously high, so I was forced to go to the plant exchange “hazmat style” with a N95 grade mask to prevent worsening my sinus infection. I honestly think God gave me allergies to put me to the test to see how much of an “earth child” I truly am.
While I was getting ready to label my plants, eager gardeners circled around my seedling trays. Hunkering low with necks outstretched, gardeners ganged up and descended upon my little planted sprouts as I backed away. The garlic chives, California Softneck Garlic, Black Krim Tomatoes, Orange-glo Watermelon, Ping-tung Long Eggplant, California Wonder TMR Peppers and Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries lasted less than an hour on the table.
While the going was good, I acquired three tomato varieties (Mortgage Lifter, Aunt Ruby’s German Green and Black from Tula); herbs including sage and lemon balm; black sorghum; extra milkweed for the monarchs; collards and kale; hot peppers and blackberries and raspberries.
Inside the Discovery Center, the Missouri Department of Conservation was offering free seedlings of native plants including Echinacea and Coreopsis. Of course, I made an impulse decision to take a native sunflower species and a purple cone flower.
The turnout was wonderful, and most people brought plants clearly labeled and in containers. While at the event, I donated eight of my grafted tomatoes to the Paseo-West Community Garden. This garden is sponsored by Hope Faith Ministries, and the garden helps to feed the homeless and people with low-income healthy, organic food.
Going to local plant and seed exchanges is a great way to connect with other gardeners and farmers. Corporate agriculture will never replicate the sense of community that small family farms and community gardens generate. The garlic chives I brought to the exchange were offshoots from the original clump I picked up from the event in 2011. One person who acquired a Tommy Toe Tomato from me that year also was at the exchange this year, and she asked me if I brought any more Tommy Toe Tomatoes. Unfortunately I did not, but I now know what to bring in future years!
The green crowd in Kansas City also had the opportunity to recycle and donate used electronics, clothing, tools and building materials to people in need. Local environmentally-conscious and humanitarian-focused organizations including the Surplus Exchange, Heartland Habitat for Humanity Restore and Goodwill were accepting many items about the same time as the plant exchange.
My dad and I recycled our old VCRs (“What are those Doug?” asks a 7 year old) and donated spare gardening tools, shoes, toys and my sister’s old bicycle to people who need these items more than us.
Not only did we help the disadvantaged and kept hazardous materials out of the shrinking landfills, we also are now able to open the cabinets in the garage without having to move tons of junk out of the way. When my dad unloaded the donations from the car, a volunteer asked, “Did you clean out your garage?”
There isn’t much to talk about dirt-wise at this time of the year. The trees are bare, the lawn is brown, and local food is hard to find. Eating winter squash on a cold day in January is a reminder where our food comes from. Often we take for granted the ability to buy any “fresh” fruit or vegetable anytime of the year. In the middle of winter, blueberries from Chile are shipped thousands of miles to grocery stores in the United States. You can buy bananas all year-round from Latin America and apples from New Zealand.
If something would happen to our transportation system, winter squash would be among the few fresh foods available in the middle of winter not grown in a hydroponic greenhouse.
Growing and raising your own food is always full of surprises– one aspect that makes this practice fun and rewarding. Today I would enjoy the biggest surprise I’ve had so far. I cut up my beautiful C. moschata butternut-type pumpkin for lunch, not expecting anything out of the ordinary from it. This beautiful pumpkin was grown from landrace seed. It was the last squash still alive at the end of the season after the other plants were eaten alive by squash bugs. While hardy and beautiful, taste is more important to me. Sometimes squash are watery and bland. I picked a butternut squash that was watery and stringy earlier last season; the flesh was not dry and sweet.
I expected this pumpkin to have dry, sweet flesh since the landrace population had been previously selected for these traits. I was in for a surprise. Instead of dry, crisp flesh, the squash separated into stringy “noodles.” While the noodles weren’t as dry as butternut squash, the noodles were firmer and drier than a squash of poor eating-quality like pumpkins bred for carving.
The coolest thing about this squash is that the flesh separated easily with a fork. I did not have to cut it up into chunks to enjoy a meal of pumpkin. While I’ve never eaten spaghetti squash, the noodles looked similar to pictures I’ve seen in recipes, except my noodles were carrot-orange.
What could I do with squash noodles? I’m accustomed to cutting up winter squash into chunks, steaming or grilling them and add pumpkin pie spices with brown sugar and molasses. My cooking intuition told me to place the squash noodles in a hot wok. I added a little oil, soy sauce, sugar and some ginger powder for a taste test. I stir-fried the squash noodles briefly until they became soft. I tasted them. They were quite good. Not as strong tasting as a standard butternut, but not insipid either. The noodles did indeed have a drier texture than what I would expect from a stringy pumpkin.
What did I find today? A butternut spaghetti squash. Spaghetti squash belongs to the C. pepo family which is susceptible to vine borers and squash bugs, unlike this mutation of C. moschata I grew. Also, standard spaghetti squash doesn’t have as much Vitamin A as winter squash since it lacks the deep orange color of beta carotene. While I have not had true spaghetti squash, I think I might have found something better. Will the seed I collected breed true though? It should be interesting this coming season to see what the eating quality is of the offspring. Who knows, maybe “Butternut Noodles” will eventually make it into Seed Savers Exchange’s catalog someday!
It has been over a month since I posted to this blog. Life has been crazy and busy lately with holidays and the completion of school. Also, the growing season is over, so there isn’t as much to talk about regarding the growing of food.
However, I have completed my experiment using alfalfa meal pellets as an ingredient in fruit fly media. I did not notice much of a difference in productivity between adding brewer’s yeast or alfalfa meal to D. melanogaster cultures. That is a good sign, because the experiment suggests that alfalfa meal might be acceptable as a replacement for brewer’s yeast. Using alfalfa meal as a substitute for brewer’s yeast in D. hydei media produced fewer flies.
Adding brewer’s yeast and alfalfa meal produced the most flies (qualitatively) for both hydei and melanogaster. I honestly just use about one heaping tablespoon of brewer’s yeast and about one-fourth cup of alfalfa pellets to my base potato flake / powdered sugar recipe.
Fruit fly cultures with alfalfa meal had an added benefit of smelling better when it came time to dump the spent cultures into the compost pile.
I now use alfalfa meal regularly when I make D. hydei and D.melanogaster cultures. You can buy alfalfa pellets very cheaply at a feed store catering to farm and livestock supplies. The next media ingredient I’m thinking about experimenting with next is feed-grade-dried molasses. I have used molasses before for fruit fly cultures with good results, but I would like to see if I can lower the amount of food-grade powdered sugar for cost reasons. Feel free to share your results!
Vivarium and aquarium supplies can be very expensive. Live food is one of the most expensive aspects and turnoffs of keeping many reptiles and amphibians. Not everyone wants to breed roaches in their house, and in my experience, I’d rather feed crickets as a staple than most roaches available. However, 1000 crickets may cost $20, but shipping may add on another $20 – 25.
Fortunately, flightless fruit flies are the staple of most of my frogs’ diets. I wash and reuse containers and make my own culturing media. My recipe for hydei and melanogaster is simple; I mix a scoop of cheap potato flakes with a spoonful of brewers yeast and powdered sugar with a dash of methylparaben. Sometimes I add a pinch of spirulina, flax seed meal or molasses when I feel like.
My hydei formula is similar, but requires more liquid to fend off mold. I generally do not add spirulina to hydei media because the smell is very rank.
Most fruit fly media recipes use human grade ingredients. Using ingredients suitable for human consumption generally increases the price significantly. Spending a few bucks on potato flakes and powdered sugar isn’t much of a big deal when you have a small collection to feed, but breeders with many animals may consider alternative ingredients. I don’t think fruit flies or my frogs care if the fruit fly media is human grade or animal grade. Fruit flies are happy to breed in untended garbage or spoiled fruit.
One place I’ve begun visiting for alternative ingredients is the local feed store. You can find may types of animal feeds for cheap. Alfalfa is a good source of protein and often included in cricket feed. A 50- pound bag can be purchased for $15 – 20, significantly cheaper per pound than brewers yeast. I feed my crickets alfalfa pellets occasionally, as alfalfa is often included in commercial cricket food.
So, I decided to try an experiment using alfalfa pellets as an additive to existing fruit fly media. I still added brewers yeast, but alfalfa pellets displaced a portion of the fruit fly media.
After several weeks, melanogaster larvae were seen in large amounts in the alfalfa-based media. Production seems to be good, about the same as the brewers’ yeast only mixture. We shall see how long they stay productive.
However, hydei cultures made with alfalfa media molded quickly and so far have been not been very productive. So, it looks like alfalfa meal may be useful for providing protein to melanogaster larvae, but this ingredient is not useful for hydei. The next experiment will be to use alfalfa meal in place of brewers yeast in melanogaster media. I will report back after I try this next experiment.
The past few days I’ve been visiting community gardens and interviewing head volunteers of the gardens for a magazine article. So far, I’ve visited three very beautiful community gardens in the Greater Kansas City area.
Food can be grown just about anywhere. I’m still amazed every time when I see what people are growing! One garden picked more than 350 pounds of sweet potatoes in one day for the church’s food pantry.
Meanwhile, I picked the last tomatoes, peppers and green beans of the season on Halloween– the night of the first frost. I picked a whole basket of green beans that were quite tasty in chicken noodle soup with tofu. As you can see, a lot of tomatoes are green. However, they will ripen nicely if you place them in a brown grocery bag with an apple or banana. The ethylene gas from the fruit helps to ripen the tomatoes.
I am always sad at the end of the growing season, mostly because locally grown, delicious and organic food will be hard to find until spring. I will be experiencing homegrown tomato withdrawal for the next seven months. However, I have planted spinach and brassicas to enjoy at the moment. I’m still deciding if I want to try growing greens under lights for the winter since micro-greens are all the rage right now, but I’ve been too busy to even think about it.
People with arachnophobia beware! The other night, I was checking on my frogs in my basement as usual. However, lurking by the washing machine was an enormous wolf spider. I have seen many big friends of Peter Parker lurking in my garden before, but never have I seen one this large!
In fact, I thought the spider was fake at first. The spider didn’t even move when I approached her. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to wrestle this beast to the ground and take pictures of her for Patch of Dirt? Certainly!
I had to use a bright shining orb of light to corral her into the corner. Then we engaged in in man to spider combat. But once she saw me remove my sword, “Sting,” from his sheath, she cowered and let me capture her in the deli cup. I then sealed off the secret passage I never knew about behind my frogs’ vivariums that lead to Mount Doom.
Enough with the lame, geeky “Lord of the Rings” jokes, I thought “Sheelob” was very cool. The next morning, I let her go into my garden. She was surprisingly docile; she never reared up to bear fangs. I even left a cricket in the deli cup with her overnight, but she never touched it. So, I fed the cricket to my fire-bellied toads.
She is some type of wolf spider, if not a tarantula. Someone mentioned to me on Facebook that she may be a shamanic sign that was sent to me. Spiders are powerful totem animals in many Native American cultures. Perhaps something very good is going to happen? Nothing good though for arachnophobes! Here is a short video of her when I released her.
Mixing species or different natural morphs of reptiles and amphibians is one topic that provokes strong reactions in the reptile and amphibian community. Anytime you see a forum topic with the word “mixing” in its title, be prepared for a very long thread spanning several webpages long.
Like red and blue politicians, keepers of each side are ready to state their opinions. It is one topic that can divide people in the community. Most “serious” hobbyists discourage mixing species and morphs. However, I have known several “serious” hobbyists that have created a mixed vivarium.
The biggest reason why some hobbyists keep multiple species of reptiles and amphibians in an enclosure is for aesthetic purposes. Some people want to try and replicate a “natural” system with different species of animals. A lesser reason is to save space, particularly if the collection is very large.
Mixing species of reptiles and amphibians is not recommended for beginner keepers, as keeping herps this way is compared to playing Russian Roulette. Competition and aggression are the most frequently stated and most important reasons to not mix according to people who are against the practice. An inexperienced keeper may erroneously believe that species A may be compatible with species B until he or she loses animals.
One species of reptile or amphibian may bully another species to death or regard the other one as food. Even among individual reptile and amphibian species, cannibalism can occur if there is a significant size difference between individuals in a vivarium.
Many species of amphibians also secrete toxins that may kill other animals in a vivarium. Fire-bellied toads (Bombina species) are a good example.
An overlooked risk of mixing reptile and amphibian species is disease transfer. Several species of amphibians can be carriers of the deadly chytrid fungal disease but may not become physically ill. Introducing a species that tolerates chytrid into a vivarium with a species that does not share the same immunity is very risky. African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) have similar care to their cousin, the tropical clawed frog (Silurana tropicalis), but tropical clawed frogs are highly susceptible to chytrid disease. Common African clawed frogs are known to be carriers of the pathogen.
While mixing species is unpopular among many keepers, mixing naturally occurring color morphs can be more so. Several color morphs of blue dart frogs (Dendrobates tinctorius) can be kept together without difficulty. The problem is not husbandry but the possibility of producing mutt or hybrid frogs. In the past, there have been reports of some keepers unethically selling mutt frogs as new morphs. Many people– at least in the frog hobby– prefer to keep morphs as natural as possible.
However, there are also many experienced keepers who have mixed animals successfully regardless of the risks. An experienced hobbyist I knew kept hourglass tree frogs (Dendropsophus ebraccatus) with golden dart frogs (Phyllobates terribilis). The justification was that both species were found in the same habitat, ate the same food, and had similar temperature and humidity requirements.
One person kept multiple morphs of green dart frog (Dendrobates auratus) in a 125 gallon vivarium with a single red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas). The keeper kept the animals together for many years and hand fed previously frozen crickets to the tree frog to avoid stressing out the dart frogs with large crickets. The keeper discarded frog eggs to prevent cross breeding.
I once visited a local hobbyist who kept a 300 gallon vivarium. This large vivarium had several morphs of Dendrobates tinctorius and Dendrobatesleucomelas mixed together. According to the keeper, the animals have been kept together for years with no losses. My own observation was that the animals appeared healthy and well cared for.
Some mantella keepers I’ve known have mixed tiny chameleons of the Brookesia genus with some species of mantella. Some institutions have even mixed adult emerald tree boas (Corallus caninus) with smaller species of dart frogs. The justification is that the adult boas will not attack the frogs which are very small and are not a food source. Hobbyists who have very large paludariums sometimes add non-aggressive fish and invertebrate species to the water portion.
After my ten years of frog keeping, I have had some mixing experiences– but they were unplanned. I once kept my fire-bellied toads with guppies. The original reason for putting guppies in the water portion of the vivarium was to feed the toads– it was never my original intention to keep them long term. However, the guppies multiplied and Roger and Chris were much more enthusiastic about crickets and mealworms than guppies.
A few times I mixed two different species of mantellas in froglet containers when I was inundated with offspring and ran out of room, but these living conditions were temporary. I once kept a painted mantella (Mantella madagascariensis) with two blue leg mantellas (Mantella expectata) in a small 2.5 gallon plastic container for several months. All three frogs were captive bred offspring that were eventually sold to other hobbyists.
My personal opinion on mixing species of reptiles and amphibians? Yes, it can be done successfully and can be impressive. But no– I would not recommend it for most people, particularly people just starting out in the hobby.