State of the garden.

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since my last post.

It is June 19th and my vegetable and fruit operation has grown out of my control. I can barely keep up with weeding. Watering is easier this year than it was last year and the fence has kept my dogs out of the plants. No major diseases have struck but the plants are not picture perfect.

It's a real mess

Still, the fruits of my labor have begun to appear. I pulled all the carrots out two weeks ago and I am still eating them. I began to pull the garlic out. Not knowing if I could eat the tiny bulbs, I threw them in the composter. My peas are all gone and the rest of the spring veggies all went to seed (literally!).  Here are some of the upcoming stars in the garden:

CUCUMBERS

The cucumber plants are growing exponentially (I don’t know what that means!)

Coming soon to a salad near you!

PEPPERS

Oh Pepper, how do I love thee!

TOMATOES

I have harvested many tomatoes already. I even shared with my neighbor. She made a salad for her husband and he exclaimed that the tomatoes were delicious. He did not know they came from my garden. Yes, I am proud. Unfortunately, the tomatoes are consumed almost as soon as they come in the house and I have no pictures except for this one.

Galina and Large Cherry tomatoes

The blossom rot end (BER) problem was confined to my container tomatoes and it’s gone now –for the most part.

One firm conclusion I have arrived at this year is that I will no longer grow Determinate tomatoes. Unless someone convinces me that a Determinate tomato is SO delicious that I must grow it, I think this is my last year for growing them. I came to this because my Prairie Fire tomato plant is done. It has about 8 tomatoes left growing on it after I pruned the ones that were afflicted by BER. The tomatoes are beginning to turn color and the plant has began to die and it’s not even the end of June.

I checked on my fallen Blackberry bush. I am just in awe at the resilience of this plant. The blackberries continue to ripen and I even beat the birds to a few. They were so sweet!

Birds denied

Other things competing for my attention are:

MY BOYS

They are my life and they keep me busy. Here they are before we went exploring around the Arkansas River the other day. You can’t see their canteens, of which they were very proud!

The boys

WORLD CUP

Oh yeah! It’s that time again. The World Cup  is on! This year, all the perennial favorites have met VERY stiff resistance from the rest of the world. The US is as strong a team as any and recently got robbed of a win but I still have hopes of advancing to the next stage. My other team is Mexico and my biggest fantasy is that the US and Mexico will compete for the Cup in the finals. Hey, a man can dream!

The North Korean team is awesome and could really be the Cinderella story of this cup. Politics have no place in Futbol (sure we call it Soccer but the rest of the world calls it Futbol) and the North Korean team won my respect by giving Brazil a run for their money.

Of course, if God loves me, he will let an African country reach the finals. If you don’t follow futbol, you may not understand the passion the game ignites in people and you may not understand the INCREDIBLE lift a spot in the finals could give a whole continent. I keep thinking of the millions of little boys and girls in Africa whose dreams will reach a new level if an African team reaches the finals.

Over and Out.

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Summer is Here

To me, Summer has officially started when I harvest my first ripe tomato from the garden. Tah-Dah! I present to you Galina. This was my first ripe tomato last year as well. Galina is sweet with a bite of acid at the end. It is a cherry type tomato that varies from bright yellow to orange in color.  The seed packet said it is an indeterminate plant but for me, this plant grows more like a bush than a vine.  I harvested this beauty yesterday so the official date of Summer at Benjamin Hill Farms is June 5th.

BLOSSOM END ROT

I’ve had a bad time with Blossom End Rot (BER). I believe this is due to the many rainy days we experienced a few weeks ago. Apparently, too much water will keep the roots from taking calcium, which then causes BER. I have pulled many tomatoes afflicted by BER and I am happy to report that the new tomatoes forming are ok.

TINY TIM

My novelty tomato; Tiny Tim, reached maturity at 8 inches tall. It has been setting fruit like crazy. I count 11 cherry tomatoes on the plant.

Tiny Tim doing its share

SILVERY FIR TREE

My Silvery Fir Tree tomato plant is producing lots of tomatoes. I pulled a few that were affected by BER and still have lots and lots left on the plant. How I wish this was an Indeterminate plant. I do love the flat nature of the fruit!

Silvery Fir Tree tomato

BLACKBERRY DOWN

A couple of weeks ago, a strong gale blew through my garden and flattened the blackberry canes. It broke them actually. I left them where they fell because they were still somewhat attached. The fruit continues to form on them and to ripen.

Blackberry

UPSY TURVY

Incredibly, there are three pepper plants surviving on the Upsy Turvy pepper planter. The planter itself seems to be doing poorly in the sun but three plants in it survived and are developing.

Not quite a success but not a complete failure

Overall, things are ok in the garden. My tomato plants don’t look perfect. There is evidence of water-stress, blossom-end rot and caterpillar damage but then I did not expect them to look perfect. I don’t spray anything on them so they fend for themselves. I am betting that if I feed them and water them, they will be strong and do fine.

My onions did not grow. They were salad onions so I did not expect bulbs but I expected them to grow bigger than they did. I pulled them and ate them this morning for breakfast.

My garlic is not growing either. It got to a point and stopped. It’s not doing anything actually. Just sitting there.

My Peas are done. I will pull them this evening when the temperatures drop a little. I already have a few tomato plants where the peas grew.

I wanted to pull my cabbage and my broccoli plants out but I decided to let them sit a while longer. I went out last evening and found no cabbage loopers on the cabbage. Where did they go? I checked the broccoli and saw none there either. Did it get too hot for them?

The cucumber plants are growing well. The lemon cucumbers have blooms now. I can’t wait to taste these round cucumbers.

My Minnesota Midget canteloupes are growing and some are begginning to hold on to the fence. I planted them on a big tub this year. I hope they fruit.

FRUIT TREES

I found fruit flies around the peaches today. Sigh! I hope there are enough peaches on the tree that I get to eat some this year. I don’t want to spray the trees so I don’t know what to do. All the peaches I bagged fell. Incidentally, fruit trees drop fruit to self-thin. It’s called June Drop. Mine started dropping fruit in May so I hope it is still the same thing.

Over and Out.

Drum roll please…

Recently, Gardener on Sherlock Street gave me an award for being a versatile blogger. My part was to tell a little about me and to pass the award forward to another blogger. So I considered all the bloggers whose blogs I read. At first I only thought of gardening blogs since that is the kind of blog I read mostly. There is Our Engineered Garden whereas the blogger shares with us all the neat and cool stuff he does to grow plants. Then there is Green Roof Growers. Their middle name is versatility! I could go on and on about all the wonderful, creative gardening blogs out there. However, I read one blog that has little to do with gardening. This blog is primarily a story telling blog with music, poems, photography and more. Versatility comes to mind when you read this blog. Thus, I hereby grant the Versatile Blogger Award to Prairie Air.

Rock On!

Posted in Spring. Tags: . 1 Comment »

EZ DIY hand-pump

Weeks ago, I put an old 55 gallon plastic drum under the rain spout. I did not have time to make a proper rain barrel out of it. Of course, it rained and the drum is now full and heavy and nearly impossible to move. So how am I going to get the water out of it to use it on the flowers? Easy, I will pump the water out using an easy to make, hand-powered water pump.

THE MATERIALS

  • 3/4 inch PVC pipe. How much pipe depends on your needs. I need enough for at least one side of the pump to reach the bottom of  a 55 gallon drum.
  • Wood dowel rod. This rod has to fit inside the PVC pipe with some wiggle room.
  • An old rubber sandal or any other source of rubber.
  • A T PVC join
  • Two check valves. This is the heart of the pump. You can buy these at most hardware stores for about $7 each.  I think they are pricey but I looked into making my own and I thought it would save me time to just buy them. Maybe sometime in the future I will revisit making my own check valves.
  • Optionally, you can get PVC primer and PVC cement to glue the whole thing together once you are happy with the arrangement. My pump is not glued so it falls apart after about 20 or so pump but it’s very easy to reassemble.
  • Tools: a drill, a saw to cut the PVC pipe, and a knife or scissors to cut the rubber gasket  for the piston (dowel rod).

Making this pump takes as long as it takes you to cut small PVC pipe segments with a pipe saw and to cut the rubber gasket out of the old sandal.

By far the most elaborate part of this project is cutting out the gasket out of an old sandal or any other source of rubber. I traced the circle using the end of the PVC pipe.  Once I attached it to the dowel rod I found out it was too big to fit inside the pump handle so I trimmed it with scissors. You want it to go into the PVC handle nice and snug. The objective is to create a vacuum inside the PVC pipe handle.

These sandals are for pumping

Piston complete

You notice I attached the rubber gasket to the dowel rod using a standard wood screw. I imagine this piston won’t last forever but I’m betting it will last to the end of the season. Meanwhile, I will keep an eye out for something more durable.

Next, you need to cut a couple of short PVC pipe sections; maybe 3 or 4 inches long. They will attach to the T joint and once in place, they will connect to the check valves. By the way, the T joint has to be 3/4 inch inside, meaning that the 3/4 inch PVC pipe has to fit inside the T. In my case, it fits nice and tight. The whole thing will look like this:

pump assembled

A word about the check valves. The go one way. They are marked with arrows telling you which direction the water will flow. Obviously, you need to align them to ensure the water comes in one end and out the other.

Here is a picture of the check valves before assembly:

check valves

I attached long sections of PVC pipes to the open end of each valve but what I will do in near future is find an PVC fitting that will allow me to connect a water hose connector. I intend to run a hose to the garden and pump the water all the way directly from the barrel.

To operate the pump, you submerge the intake end of the pump into the water and pump the piston in and out of the handle (not all the way out). This creates the vacuum that will suck the water. The check valves will do the rest for you. Here is a video of the kind of flow you can expect from this 3/4” pump:

Posted in Spring. Tags: , . 22 Comments »

My First Blog Award

My first indelible impression of a vegetable garden is of my father breaking the cement on a paved yard (I seem to remember the whole thing was paved!) and planting beans and tomatoes in the hole. He also planted herbs and other edible plants. I remember the smell that the green tomatoes left in my hands as I ran them over their shiny green surface. Later, my older brother released a baby turtle in the hole to live in the “garden”.  Fast forward to my mid 30’s and one day I awoke with a strong urge to get married and have children. Also, along this feeling, there was the memory of my father’s vegetable patch. I bought some pepper seeds; jalapeños, serranos, cayenne, anaheim, I bought a mini-greenhouse with the little peat pellets included and I began my gardening journey. Many failures and successes later (my first batch of peppers grew to green lusciousness only to be destroyed by late Spring storms and a plague of caterpillars that ate the surviving plants to the ground), I find myself with two precious and handsome boys, a tolerating wife, two dogs and more vegetable plants I can keep up with. There are things we gardeners enjoy that non-gardeners don’t: the solitude of weeding, the conversations with bugs, plants, flowers, birds, sky, water,soil, and sun; the taste of peas off the vine, the setting and rising of the sun, the company of a robin as we move soil around the garden — once, I had a robin literally at my feet as I was turning soil in the Spring; me talking to the dirt, he waiting for any grub or worm that may exposed. I am glad my father broke the cement that day and exposed the soil underneath. Little did he know that his action would lead to this.

Every year I learn of many new and exciting growing techniques: Square foot gardening, lasagna gardening, permaculture, sub-irrigated containers, straw-bale gardening, the list goes on and on all in the name of healthier plants and tastier produce. But there is a benefit to this activity that transcends plants and that is the sense of community. All these other people doing what you love. They understand. They know. They may be thousands of miles away or right around the corner but we still know of their daily dirt adventures because they graciously share them with us via their blogs and websites.

Thanks to all gardener bloggers out there for sharing your knowledge and your stories. Special thanks to Garden On Sherlock Street for giving me this award. Every time I go to her blog, she has new subscribers. There is a reason for that. Now the rules of this award stipulate that I must pass the award forward. Gosh! There are so many good, versatile garden bloggers out there and so I will think about it carefully. I promise on my next post I will announce the recipient of the award. Until then, I leave you with a poem I posted last year in this blog.

Gratitude To A Vegetable Plant

Thank you,
for speaking to the elements
on my behalf.
Thank you for reaching deep
and reaching high;
that through your efforts
I may bite
into the soil and the sky.

© 2009 David Borboa

Over and out.

Posted in Spring. 5 Comments »

I Grow Tomatoes

Here is my evolution, as a tomato grower, thus far:
Stage one:
  1. Buy tomato plant at Mega-Hardware store.
  2. Dig hole, put plant in hole.
  3. Water now and again.
  4. Harvest tomatoes
Stage two:
  1. Buy tomato plant at Mega-Hardware store.
  2. Dig hole, put plant in hole.
  3. Water now and again.
  4. Oops! the plant is all rickety and small
  5. Buy fertilizer at Mega-Hardware store
  6. Feed tomato plant
  7. Harvest a few tomatoes
Stage three:
  1. Buy tomato plant at Mega-Hardware store.
  2. Dig hole, put plant in hole.
  3. Water now and again.
  4. Oops! The leaves look gray and they are falling off
  5. Oops! What are these tiny bugs and what’s with the ants!
  6. Oops! My plant is growing mostly leaves and no fruit!
  7. Buy chemical spray for blight
  8. Buy chemical spray for bugs
  9. Learn about soil testing and test soil
  10. Learn what N-P-K stands for
  11. Apply all above knowledge as best you can
  12. Harvest some tomatoes.
Stage four:
  1. Buy tomato plant at Mega-Hardware store.
  2. Dig hole, put plant in hole.
  3. Water now and again.
  4. Oops! Read on various websites and blogs about how bad all the stuff you did last season is for you and everyone else.
  5. Learn about organic
  6. Start a compost pile
  7. Learn that doing compost the right way takes a degree in Chemistry
  8. Learn that maybe the tomato you bought was sick to begin with
  9. Read and learn about starting your own plants from seed
  10. Spent your inheritance on garden supplies to grow your own plants
  11. Spend your children’s inheritance on garden supplies ‘you need’
  12. Harvest tomatoes
  13. Get ready for next season by buying seeds of 100 tomato varieties because the catalogs got you all excited about them.
Stage five
  1. Sow seeds inside.
  2. Use all your living space to accomodate 200 seedlings
  3. Use all your money on electricity and water to keep seedlings alive
  4. Plant 200 tomato plants
  5. Apply the now encyclopedial knowledge you have to growing tomatoes
  6. Harvest LOTS of tomatoes.
  7. Wonder about what the heck you will do with all these tomatoes!
  8. Become an expert in canning and freezing
  9. Apply Ninja skills to scurrying around at night leaving tomatoes in people’s door steps.
  10. Ignore all contact with other human beings while you strive to keep all your plants watered and weeded.
  11. Cry at night, softly and by yourself.
  12. Pray for the first frost of the season to liberate you.
  13. Harvest more tomatoes
  14. Yearn for Stage One.
  15. Get seed catalogs and get all hopeful again for next season.

Over and out.

Posted in Spring. 9 Comments »

Fresh -the movie

Last night I watched the movie Fresh. It was screened at Botanica courtesy of the people at the Wichita Organic Garden Club.

It is difficult not to feel militant about our food production system after watching a movie like this. Yes, the movie is exploitative but it is quietly passionate in its portrayal of a problem that many of us are not even marginally aware of.  Myself, I was cued to this problem after reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilema, yet, mr. Pollan’s book did not get me going the way Fresh -the movie did.

The movie starts with a very likeable, charismatic farmer by the name of Joe Salatin. It’s hard not to agree with Joe. Later we are introduced to a couple who run a chicken farm. Along with their interview, we are shown HORRIFIC scenes of cute, cuddly baby chicks being mistreated in the name of profit at a chicken farm (I don’t know if that was their farm). The couple and their dog look, for lack of a better term, depressed. They are shot sitting on a couch. In contrast, Joe and the other heroes of organic farming are always shot in the farm, moving, creating, educating. They are shown laughing and caring. Please don’t get me wrong; I am on board here. I just want to point out that the movie is shot with bias so I don’t have to hear it from critics. I know the movie is biased. It has to be. It has to grab us by our collective lapels and shake us. We need to pay attention.

The movie deals with how food is produced, at least in North America, but I suspect this movie will be relevant world-wide. The farmers in India would most definitely agree with this movie. They too have run into the problems outlined in Fresh after using Big-Chem and Big-Ag methods over there. When I left, however, I was thinking about something else: Humanity. How can I buy meat from people who torture animals like that? Tying cows with chains to a mechanical device and dragging them by their necks in a tiny space for God-knows what purpose?! I can’t. Not anymore. I went home and told my wife we were done supporting that kind of indecent behavior. Like I said, it’s hard not to get militant.

I want to offer a bit of caution here as well. There are billions of people on this planet. Thanks to Fritz Haber, the German chemist who invented the process for fixing Nitrogen from the air and to Big-Ag and their Green Revolution, we were able to get to this point. Without Fritz Haber’s discovery (up to that point, only plants could fix Nitrogen from the air), there would be no way for Big-Ag to do what they do and the planet’s population would be a tad smaller. Now, we cannot just stop suddenly. We have to find a way to continue to feed people while we change gears. We can not just let a few billion people starve while we all go organic. We can do it. We are inventive creatures endowed with powerful brains. I recommend that after seeing this movie, or before you see it. that you read James E. McWilliams’ book Just Food.  Fresh -the movie is fundamentally a movie about hope. It delivers its content straight into your neural system and you get immediately high. Mr. McWilliams’ book will deliver a sobering discussion to temper that high. Yes, let’s go organic, sustainable, and local but let’s do it the right way.

We all need to watch this movie. We need to get angry. We need to inconvenience ourselves a little and find places where we can buy organic products. If you live in the Wichita area, visit the Love Local Food blog and drop them a note. They are compiling a list of local resources for people who want to buy local, organic products.

Over and out.