Another Sign of Spring

The asparagus at Norway Farms is ready, but the DeKalb Farmers Market won’t start for another month so Milt Westlake will truck it to G&L Auto Repair, 1310 S. 4th Street, every Thursday in May–yes, starting tomorrow!–from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. or until he runs out.

He often brings other goodies, too, like new potatoes, onions, and flowers.

I’m going to try a recipe for asparagus soup I found in the Trib today.

Year of the Tomato

The Setup

The spring didn’t look good for tomatoes. In spite of the new greenhouse digs, the right germination temperature could not be reached. So much for starting beefy heirlooms. I was forced to buy, late, little Better Boys and Romas and didn’t expect much but now but the babies are overtopping 5-foot trellises. It is indeed the Year of the Tomato che’z yinn. Continue reading Year of the Tomato

Eating on $3 a Day

A couple months ago DeKalb observed Food Stamp Challenge Days as proclaimed by Mayor Van Buer at a Council meeting. (I’ve been working on this post occasionally since then, and finally finished it today. Whew.)

The challenge is to subsist for a few days as a person wholly dependent on food stamps, by spending no more than $3 per day to feed oneself. The question is whether people in the U.S. can eat healthy on that sort of allowance, which was part of the recent battle of the Farm Bill, you see. With a projected 28 million people needing help this year due to the economic downturn, so many of them children, we’d better hope we’ve gotten the answer right.

Critics of such challenges note that most people on food stamps usually have a few bucks of their own to put toward groceries. Nevertheless, the $3-a-day experience is one my husband and I had as a newlywed homeless couple in the 80s. Continue reading Eating on $3 a Day

My Space-Intensive Garden

As the spruces that line the south side of our property grew, they increasingly shaded and gradually shortened the growing season of the vegetable garden until the time that no tomato would ever ripen again in that spot. The trees must stay, as they’ve always sheltered pairs of cardinals and mourning doves. I relocated the garden this year.

The Breakthrough

The original beds were built of concrete blocks, 3 slightly-raised rectangles each 4 feet wide but of varying orientations and lengths of 4, 12 and 16 feet. After growing everything from corn to squash in them for 10 years, I knew exactly what I liked about those beds but mostly what I didn’t. Low beds kept me on my knees. Four feet was too wide for the arms of a 5’2″ gardener. Rabbits could be discouraged with chicken wire, but this meant stepping over it and onto the garden soil, which compacts it. If we dared vacation in July, the weeds won.

With a book bought for 25 cents at a church fundraiser plus a couple of winter afternoons spent online, I solved all of these problems and more. The book is a 1981 edition of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening. Bartholomew, who used to raise vegetables for restaurants, had a show on PBS back then. He has refined his methods in 25-plus years but his basic challenge to home gardeners remains the same:

Why do you need rows? Continue reading My Space-Intensive Garden

Garden Blog: Good Bug, Bad Bug

I’ve never minded sharing some of the veggie harvest with the wildlife, so the first few holes in the leaves of the wax beans didn’t motivate aggressive action. Big mistake. In a matter of a few days the leaves looked like fine lace. These little bugs were all over them. They not only eat the leaves but leave round bite marks in the baby beans and they’ll even chew the blossoms. I spend about 10 minutes twice a day pulling them off of the yellows and the limas, and they are getting over their bafflement of the climbing green pole beans. A weak dishwater solution, misted, didn’t faze them, so I added cayenne powder to the mix, which did but clogged the sprayer. Ground clove has also been suggested but next I’ll probably try clove oil, already on hand.

I thought they’d eat, mate and die but have found out that they winter over. Mercy.

bean leaf beetle
The bean leaf beetle can vary quite a lot in size and color, from yellow to red and not necessarily sporting spots. They always seem to have the black triangle at the base of the wings, though. Continue reading Garden Blog: Good Bug, Bad Bug