Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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The Squash Bug Capital of Tennessee

After this spring, I've dubbed Crab Orchard, or at least Wild Things Farm the "squash bug capital of Tennessee".  I practice crop rotation every year, but seems like the bugs have a radar or a spy at my computer looking to see where the squash and cucumbers are going to be planted.  As soon as a seed germinates and comes out of the ground--wham!  It's eaten.  There are times that I've seen a handful of bugs around one plant.

This spring I sprayed rotenone/pyrethrum on the stem and saturated the roots of the plants every 3 or 4 days just until they could get enough size on them to grow, but the challenge of out-smarting these bugs has been, well, bugging me.  To overcome a problem you have to "become the problem".  So I started thinking like a squash bug.  Get to the stem and dig just under the soil, lay eggs and split.  Eggs hatch, become larvae, pierce the stem and crawl inside. 

I'm always looking for creative ways to use leftover things rather than tossing them, so I had this bag of torn up row cover.  I cut the row cover into little squares, about 6" square,

Then I wrapped the stem of my transplants (I started these in the greenhouse under strict supervision) with the reemay squares,

I then covered the reemay with soil and left the stem-wrapped part in its normal position, above ground.  Yes, it's tedious, but spraying so much isn't fun either.   It's only been a couple of days since this was done, but I think unless the bugs bring scissors with them, they might have a problem getting to the spot to lay eggs.  We'll see.


How to wash your favorite garden hat

I'm sure every die-hard gardener has their most very favorite gardening hat.  Mine is a Scala hat, very wide brim, that has perched on my head going on three seasons now.  It's made of palm leaves, but very tightly woven and durable.  Margaret the Mantis ( a pin) guards the hat against insect predators.......

Anyway, I've been noticing that the hat was getting pretty funky looking from sweating in it every day, adjusting it with dirty gloved hands, laying it aside while doing something in the garden that warrants the hat being removed, and just three years of constant use.  I bought a new hat, but it just isn't the same.  Sooooo, I began trying to figure out how to wash the hat without destroying it. 

I sprayed the entire hat with Shout laundry pre-soak, really soaking the sweatband inside and the dirtiest spots on the hat.  I then placed the hat upside down on the top rack of the dishwasher and I put a coffee cup inside it to keep it from moving around in the dishwasher.  I don't have my dishwasher set on  what I call the "nuclear cycle" where the washer heats the water so hot it melts plastic, but if yours is set to destroy plastic items I would suggest putting it on energy saver or whatever cycle cancels the water heater.  I set it on a short wash and it came out really pretty clean.  There is still a very faint spot in the front where sweat soaks through, but now I can once again wear my hat in town without being embarrassed, and Margaret likes it too.




Awesome online gardening tools

I purchase a lot of the seeds used on the farm from Johnny's Select Seeds and yesterday they sent out an e-mail that had links to the most useful tools that I just had to share...  go here


There's a ton of info in seed starting, how much to plant, when to plant, how long till harvest, blah, blah, blah.

Hope you find something in there useful.....I did!  Happy Spring, y'all :)


Starting Sweet Potato Slips

I've grown sweet potatoes in the garden for a few years but didn't try to start my own slips until last year.  A friend's grandpa grew the biggest sweet potatoes--football size sometimes-- and I tried to start slips according to his method. 

He said to take a big black bucket, like a feed bucket, and put fresh manure in the bottom of it.  Cover the manure with soil then place the sweet potatoes on the soil, cover with soil, then cover with hay.  In a few weeks sprouts are supposed to start coming out.  All I could get out of this method was rotten potatoes.

While "googling" how to start sweet potato slips I ran across many folks who just sprouted them like you would an avocado pit.  Cut the sweet potato in half then suspend it with toothpicks in a glass with water.  Put the cut side down and set the glass in a warm spot in the house.  I put mine all around the woodstove in the livingroom.

It took a few weeks for them to start sprouting, but sprout they did!  I've got around 30 glasses with sprouting potatoes in them.   When the sprouts get about 6" long pull them loose from the potato and place  in a glass of water.  If the sprouts get too long before time to plant you can take cuttings from them and stick the cuttings in the water to root.  I've got one jar with about 40 sprouts I've pulled off the "mother" taters, and I check them daily for new sprouts that are ready to be on their own.   One of the CSA members came to visit a few weeks ago and she laughed and said that reminded her of her classroom years ago when she would have the kids sprout things and plant seeds just to teach them where food really comes from. 

See......most of what we really needed to know we probably did learn in kindergarten!


Saving Tomato Seeds

I've always been interested in saving seeds of vegetables that aren't hybrids.  Tomatoes have got to be one of the favorite crops grown in any garden. General instructions on saving tomato seeds include the words "ferment" which is a little scary to me--that's the last step before "rot"!

A friend of mine eased my fears from saving tomato seeds last year.  All you do is get a clean paper towel, cut the tomato, and SMEAR the seeds onto the paper towel.  If you can space them out a little bit, that works great because when you're ready to germinate the seeds, all you do is "plant" the paper towel and voila!  Tomato plants :)


The Perfect Scarecrow

I've seen lots of scarecrows in my gardening life, and sometimes I think the scarecrows are more for us humans than they are to actually scare crows away.  The coolest scarecrow I've seen was named Esmerelda and she had a really neat hand painted gourd head, mardi-gras beads, boobs, cool dress, and I don't know if she scared any crows away but she was way cool.  She lived in a blueberry patch.

 I've just planted the first planting of sweet corn, and as soon as those kernels sprout and head skyward the crows start plucking.  Today I was working in the tomato patch (installing drip tape, yet another blog story) and I heard the crows squawking.  I know the corn hasn't come up yet, but that was my signal to install the scarecrows.

When I first started growing corn here, it was the first time I had actually grown corn (about 3 years ago).  I never really had enough land to grow corn, since it takes quite a bit of space to do well. 

When the corn started sprouting that first year, my neighbor told me he had seen crows eating the sprouts.  I panicked, and immediately thought "oh my gosh, I don't have clothes for a scarecrow, or a hat, and what kind of head do I put on it?" (lol)  He told me the best scarecrow was to simply tie a black garbage bag on a pole and stick it in the ground in the corn patch.  The crows think it's a dead crow on a stick so they don't come near.

I've got these neat plastic fence posts that I've used for everything from flower bed surrounds, chicken lots, dog lots, flower bed protection to tomato supports.....blah, blah, but every spring, several of them don garbage bags and keep the crows away until the corn gets too big for the crows to be interested in messing with it.  Trust me, it works here!   I put them about 30' on center around the corn patch.  Cheap and reliable.


Variety is the spice of life---and the garden!

Farmers select various varieties of crops for different reasons.  Some varieties are disease resistant, some taste better, some varieties are selected for their growth habits (for example bush beans vs. pole beans), hand-me-down seeds (aka heirlooms) and some are just more fun to look at. 

In conversations with folks about vegetables and gardening, the question always comes up:  "What kind of so-and-so do you grow?"   I like to learn about what works for other farmers, so in turn, I will share what works here at the farm as far as varieties go.  Some of the reasons certain varieties are selected can't be easily explained (pretty picture, nice description in the catalog, someone recommended it, I was hungry when I was looking at the seed catalog.....), but I grow them again because they worked.   

We'll try to take this in alphabetical order to keep it organized just a little bit, and every single crop that's grown on the farm isn't covered, either.

  • Artichoke, Imperial Star--This is an experiment this year, so I can't really comment on how tasty they are, how they grow, or pest resistance.  I'm growing this variety because the seed catalog said it could be grown from seed in one season in this area (Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee).  We'll see.
  • Basil, Lemon, and Large Leaf Sweet--I grow these two because I bought a seed mix for the last two years and it seemed like most of the seeds were those teeny tiny little leaves that didn't look like basil, and a big bunch of the plants were licorice basil too, which not many people like.  The lemon basil and sweet basil seemed to be the most popular, so that's what I'm sticking with.
  • Green Beans---Ah, green beans; a favorite of southern gardeners.  I grow several varieties of these.  I grow Case Knife beans which is an heirloom, about 10" long and 1/2-3/4" wide (about the size of a table knife).  This is the only pole bean grown on the farm simply due to the amount of labor it takes to erect the structures for them to climb on---these are worth the effort though.  Roma II are grown because they are tasty and stringless (wide flat bean) and this year Top Crop, Burpee Stringless Bush, and Peanut Garden Beans are being grown because of their growth habit (bush), stringless, and I've read that they are tasty--we'll see.
  • Broccoli--Southern Comet is the choice here because it tolerates heat without bolting too quickly.  I don't care how careful one is to plant broccoli early so it will mature "before the heat of the summer" or late so it will "be kissed by the first frosts" it's going to be exposed to SUMMER around here.  This variety is recommended for southern gardeners and I believe it would have worked out well last year if it hadn't been so wet; there were a few heads that matured despite being grown in a rice patty situation.
  • Cabbage--The cabbage choice at Wild Things is "Cabbage Babies".  Many members didn't know what to do with an entire head of cabbage since not many folks make kraut any more, so after researching, I found Cabbage Babies.  It's a wonderful variety of savoy, green, and purple cabbage all in one packet.  Each head is a little bigger than a softball, and just enough for a meal.
  • Carrots--Little Finger are the faves because they mature quicker, they are sweet as candy, and don't get woody.
  • Cucumbers--There's a variety called "Diva" that has all female flowers and doesn't require a male for pollination.  The cukes don't have prickly spines on them and they are very crispy.  Bush type cukes are great too, and Bush Crop and Spacemaster Bush taste well and don't sprawl everywhere, but a vine-type called Straight 8 is grown just because it's a reliable producer of tasty cucumbers.
  • Eggplant---Black Beauty is a reliable producer, Ichiban has non-bitter oriental-type fruits, and Cloud Nine looks cool (well, it does). Last year a variety called "Hansel" was grown and it produced like crazy, but required staking.
  • Lettuce---My absolute fave is the Lettuce Mix from Pinetree Seeds.  It has the most beautiful mix of lettuces I've seen, it's not bothered by insects, and is a reliable producer if you're careful how you harvest it to not damage the plant. The seed doesn't keep well from season-to-season though, so don't order more than you'll use in one season.  Bibb Summer head lettuce is also planted for the members who like a "loose leaf" head lettuce.
  • I grow several onions, but one I've fallen in love with is a scallion-type onion, called Purplette.  I like it because it's pretty in salads and it's a great tasting green onion.
  • Parsley--The flat Italian type is the only kind to grow for cooking.  The pretty, fluffy, curled parsley that sits on a plate is only good for that; sitting on a plate and looking pretty.
  • Pepper---Oh man, I'm growing 15 varieties of peppers this year (so far).  I LOVE peppers---they can make a dish go from mmmmm, to AHHHHHHH or oooooooh real quick!  Most of the members don't like hot peppers but I do.  I grow a few jalapenos, cayennes, anchos, poblanos and hot bananas for my kitchen and the members who like them, but there are so many great sweet peppers out nowadays that I had to try several of them; Big Bertha, Gourmet Sweet, Chinese Giant, Planet Hybrid, Sheepnose Pimento, Banana Bill, Aruba Cubanelle, and I can't tell you one thing about them yet-----later!
  • Radishes---French Breakfast because they are pretty and tasty too, and Cherry Belle cause they are the "proverbial" radish and they perform well.
  • Spinach ---Bloomsdale Longstanding, which is not really spinach at all, but spinach bolts really quickly around here, and this is a universally grown substitute that a lot of people don't know really isn't spinach, so shhhhhh, don't say anything!
  • Squash---Summer varieties include Yellow Crookneck (taste), Celestial Scallop (pretty, and tastes good too), Black Beauty Zucchini (taste, good performer) and Spaghetti Squash because it tastes really good, is unusual, and is a reliable performer; winter varieties include Butternut (good performer, taste), Ebony Acorn is reliable and tastes good, and some new varieties this year are being tried because of the awesome job the writers did in the seed catalogs.  These include Bush Delicata and Cream of the Crop Winter Hybrid.
  • Tomatoes could take up an entire web page as far as I'm concerned, but I grow Better Boy because they taste and look good, Mr. Stripey for the taste, and Cherokee Purple (heirloom) for the taste.  I also like Roma for paste tomatoes, and Early Girl because, well, they're early!  This year I'm growing seedlings of 11 varieties of heirloom tomatoes for a friend of mine and he said I could have some of the plants---the names of them aren't anything you'll see in a catalog but I can't wait to try them!   Lemon Boy is on the list this year too just because the yellow tomatoes have less acid and some folks can't tolerate the acid found in red tomatoes.
  • Purple Top Turnips are what you grow around here if you grow turnips.  They are reliable and they taste yummy raw or fried (I can't stand them boiled, sorry!)
  • Watermelon--These fruits aren't very reliable here on the mountain, but I grow Sugar Baby because they are small, mature quicker, and they are sweet just like their name says.

Well, that's about it for the variety column.  We'll do a review of them at the end of the season.  Happy planting, everyone!


How to prevent "damping off"

Anyone who has ever started seedlings in the house or in a greenhouse has looked in on their seedlings at one time or another and found them laying face down on the soil.  The stem is wilted at the soil line.  This condition is called "damping off" and is caused by a fungus.

Several years ago I learned a trick to thwart the damping off fungus:  After you get your seeds sown in the flat (of new potting mix), sprinkle a thin layer of milled peat moss over the entire surface of the flat.  Also, water them from the bottom by soaking the flat in a larger container of water, rather than sprinkling from the top. 

I keep an oscillating fan in the greenhouse also, which keeps air circulating when it gets really humid and "stuffy" in there.

Knock on wood, no one's been laying face down in the dirt since I've done this.  With all the seed starting going on right now, I thought someone might benefit from this trick!

Happy seeding from Wild Things :)

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