Growing Buckwheat to Improve Soils

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This is the second crop of buckwheat growing in the area where we will likely add new garden plots next season.  Soon, this field will be blooming in white and buzzing with honeybees.

Gardeners have asked what does buckwheat do for us?

It improves it by providing quick cover and suppressing weeds, it attracts good insects,  and it makes otherwise unavailable phosphorus available.

“The roots of the plants produce mild acids that release nutrients from the soil. These acids also activate slow-releasing, organic fertilizers, such as rock phosphate. Buckwheat’s dense, fibrous roots cluster in the top 10 inches of soil, providing a large root surface area for nutrient uptake,” a publication of the Cooperative Extension system. Complete article: https://articles.extension.org/pages/18572/buckwheat-for-cover-cropping-in-organic-farming

We will be tilling the buckwheat into our soil to add organic matter. The nutrients will enrich and enhance what we have. In the meantime, honeybees and other beneficial insects  such as hover flies, predatory wasps, lady beetles visit the buckwheat and help maintain the garden’s health.

Jammin at the Farm

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Blueberry Jam, that is, at the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens in Saratoga Springs

Diane Whitten, Cornell Cooperative extension nutritionist, came to the farm and taught everyone how to make blueberry freezer jam.

Children arrived at 9:30 for the Sunflower Hour reading program and heard Faye Mihuta, a community gardener and teacher, read “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey complete with sound effects such as the berries going “plink” into a bucket.

After story time, children and adults had the opportunity to make a freezer jam which was delicious.

 

Diane teaches many different classes on food preservation and nutrition including classes on fermentation, making jerky, canning salsa and tomatoes. Go to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s website  to register.

She has offered to teach a class on pickling vegetables in the community gardens. If you might be interested, let me know and we will see what can be arranged.

Natalie Walsh, Garden Director – Natalie.Walsh@pitneymeadows.org

What Can I Plant Now?

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 1.51.25 PMThis has been the question this week as gardeners pulled out lettuces and peas that are past prime and wondered how they can utilize the space in their raised beds at Pitney Meadows Community Gardens.

Planting a Fall Garden

Our average first killing frost date (28 degrees) is October 15. But the weather is unpredictable so it is wise to add a buffer and think about the first killing frost as being Oct. 1.

On seed packets, it lists the days to maturity, which enables you to select the vegetables that have enough time to mature before the killing frost.

What can we plant now and in the next month?

We have 12 weeks until Oct. 1. about 80 days

We can direct sow beans, cucumbers, summer squash, Swiss chard, parsnips, rutabagas, cilantro, lettuce, spinach and radishes.

Some seeds are best started indoors now and transplanted outdoors in two weeks.  This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi. Why? Because these seedlings like to start off in cooler soil than what we now have in the gardens.

July 21 – 10 weeks before Oct. 1 – 70 days

Direct sow beets, carrots, collards, leeks and scallions, lettuce and radishes. Start peas indoors and put out in two weeks.

Early August – 8 weeks before Oct. 1  – 56 days

Direct-sow arugula, lettuce, radishes, turnips, spinach, mustard, pac choi, Asian greens.

Mid August –  Direct sow spinach, mache, Swiss chard. – 42 days

You can extend the season with a row covers in the fall. So there’s plenty of time to grow many more vegetables.

Just remember that seedlings need lots of attention. The roots are small and you will need to water frequently until they are established.

Columbus Day weekend – plant garlic and shallots.

Eradicating Squash Bugs

Hi gardeners – I just got back from the gardens and all-in-all things look good.

We discovered squash bugs this week.  Mary Beth shared this great image of them:
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These are the eggs they lay on the underside of leaves.
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If you find the eggs, remove them with your fingernail or with a piece of duct tape wrapped inside out around your finger. Take them out of the garden and discard.
The next step would be to spray with diatomaceous earth (DE).  I left two full spray bottles on the counter. Shake well before using and spray both sides of the leaves only. Not the flowers. We don’t want to hurt our bees.
What damage do squash bugs do?
This insect feeds by sucking the sap of plants and in the process infecting plants with toxins that lead to the plant’s demise. Our best defense is to stay on top of it, remove the eggs and use DE.
If you see something in the garden and need information, contact me.
Observations
A few gardeners need to get to their weeding.  And, a few others, who have let their plants go to seed, may want to pull the flowering broccoli rabe, lettuce or arugula and plant a new crop.  Once they are flowering, the taste is more bitter.
I will be in the garden Thursday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. And I will be teaching another class Saturday morning at 9:30.
Hope to see you in the gardens,
Natalie Walsh, Garden Director

What a Great Morning in the Community Gardens

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 12.01.22 PMThere was a lot happening in the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens this morning.

Faye Mihuta read books to about a dozen children as part of the Sunflower Hour held each Saturday in the gardens.

Then Jess Clauser helped those who wanted to plant flowers in the Children’s Flower Garden as well as in peat cups they could take home.  It was wonderful to see children participating in all aspects of gardening and exploring the plots.

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 12.01.35 PMAnd not everyone participated in the program. The sandbox, play farm and a toy excavator saw a lot of use much to everyone’s delight. Great photo opportunity for grandmother.

Compost Tea

We had the great pleasure of having Chris Cameron, an organic gardener and supporter of PMCG,  in the gardens this morning to talk about the benefits of compost tea and how to make tea at home.

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 12.17.39 PMChris explained how using compost tea improves the soil by promoting healthy bacteria and other microorganisms that nurture strong, robust plants.

Thank you Chris. Your enthusiasm is inspiring and your lecture was informative.

If you want a copy of Chris’ handout, it will be available in the gardener’s shed.

And if you see Chris on the farm, feel free to ask him questions about compost tea.  He has been brewing for years and can show you the positive results in the plants he has been treating in the community gardens.

I’m so glad Chris is part of the team!

Gardening Class

After Chris, my lecture for our Gardening class was about what to do to minimize damage done by the cucumber beetles, squash bugs, cabbage loopers and the cutworms we found in the gardens this week.

About 10 participants learned how to identify the insects, the different ways to apply diatomaceous earth as a control and all had access to the organic remedies to use. They also learned how to find squash beetle eggs on the underside of leaves and how to remove them.

Finally, we talked about fertilizing. It is now time to fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion. Check your bottle, for my gardens I use 1 ounce in a two-gallon watering can and apply it to the soil every week for robust vegetables.

My bottle has an NPK of 2-4-1.  If the brand you have as a higher concentration of nutrients, you can treat it every other week. Watch your plants and how they respond. They will “talk” to you with a rich, green color, strong stems and vigorous fruiting.

Our next class is next Saturday.  All are welcome. 

Like today, we will walk through the garden and discuss what is happening and what we can do to keep the garden strong and robust.

I will also be working in the gardens on Thursdays from 8 to 11. You can come and see me then about chores to do or any garden concern.

Thanks for making this place great.

See you in the gardens, Natalie Walsh

What’s Happening in Our Gardens

 

See that beetle in the center of the flower? It’s a cucumber beetle.  The yellow traps worked well, but the number of beetles currently in the garden plots means we should step up our game and use another organic remedy: diatomaceous earth (DE).

DE is made up of sharp-edged fossils and is an organic solution to problems with ants, cucumber beetles, cutworms among other pests.  We have spotted these three in our gardens. It also kills pillbug, for the gardener that was looking for a solution for her home garden.

Purchase food grade DE and you should have no trouble finding it at the big box stores or garden centers. You can also order it from Amazon.  Follow the label instructions and dust the plant leaves, flowers and where the stem comes out of the soil. Don’t do it if it is windy, wait for a calm day.

Beetles need to cross the dust to be eradicated. Repeat after a rain.

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Septoria Leaf Spot

I spotted Septoria Leaf Spot in one garden plot this morning. The best way to deal with it is to stay ahead of it.  Remove the diseased leaves immediately and take them out of the garden, don’t compost.

If you can improve the air flow around the plant, do so.

Water only at the base of the plant…not overhead and add a mulch under the plant to keep any spores from splashing onto the leaves.

Then spray with copper fungicide, which is available at garden centers.  Pitney Meadows Community Gardeners can only use a copper fungicide as we are an organic garden.

Late Blight has been confirmed in NYS and using a copper fungicide as a preventative will help keep this problem at bay.

Plants will need to be sprayed every 10 days. Follow label instructions.

Cutworm

I left a cutworm in a jar on the counter so everyone can look at it.  If you find an insect that you need help identifying, leave it in the clean jar on the counter and I will tell you what it is.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need help.

On Saturday morning at 9:30, I will walk around the gardens and discuss any issues. Also Chris Cameron will be on hand to talk about the benefits of compost tea.

 

Black Beauty Tomato, Worth the Wait

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 1.22.31 PMThe color alone is a good reason to grow this tomato. The skin is a solid blue black that is a stunning contrast in a salad of yellow and red tomatoes.

What makes it black?

This tomato has a very high anthocyanin content. This is the same antioxidant found in blueberries and blackberries.

All tomatoes were slow to ripen this year, but Black Beauty was very slow. I kept testing to see if the skin gave a little to indicate it was time to pick and finally, yesterday, it was.

When I cut into the it, the meat was green, blushed red.  The taste was rich, savory, slightly acidic and complex. I liked it.

At the National Heirloom Exposition, Baker Creek’s Dave Kaiser, a tomato connoisseur, called Black Beauty the best tomato he had ever eaten. It’s good all right. And I love the wildly different color for adding pizazz to a plate.  

But I’m not calling it the best. I’m holding out for a truly great tomato.

Any  recommendations?

Beautiful Blue Borage Flowers

Next time, you’re in the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens, look at the community herb plot for an arresting display of blue flowers on the borage plants. Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 1.32.19 PM.png

The flowers are star-shaped and can be added to salads, frozen in water in ice cube trays for fancy ice cubes when serving drinks, or sugared, like violets, to garnish cupcakes for a garden party.

Borage is an ancient herb and has other uses, too. For one thing, it is an excellent soil enhancer as it contains calcium and potassium. It also attracts beneficial insects especially bees, and is said to repel tomato hornworms when planted alongside tomato plants.

But my favorite use is to make crystallized flowers. And, it’s easy.

Recipe for Crystalized Flowers

Pick the flowers when they are dry and fully open. You can also do this with violets, rose petals, nasturtiums, and pansies.

Lightly beat an egg white. In a separate shallow bowl, have a 1/4 cup of superfine granulated sugar. With a paintbrush, paint the egg white onto the flower getting into all the nooks and crannies. Then dip it into the sugar. You may want to use a second paintbrush to get the sugar well distributed. Shake off the excess sugar and place the flowers on parchment paper to dry. Once dry, use them to decorate your cakes, desserts, pancakes. They even look pretty on top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The community herb bed is grown for the use of all the Pitney Meadows Community Garden gardeners. If you would like to join us next season and have access to the plants, let me know.

 

 

From the Garden’s Bounty

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Cathy A. , one of our Pitney Meadows Community Gardens gardeners emailed me this photo of salsa verde she made from the tomatillos and peppers growing in her plot and two jars of pickles from the pickling cucumbers she grew.

She reported the salsa was delicious.

What have you made from your harvest?

I know some delicious pesto has been made by Martel C. as I was a grateful recipient of a jar. Thank you. It was so good.

If you have a recipe you particularly like, send it along. I’ll publish it here.

And if you need a snippet of an herb or two, remember we have the community herb beds that any community gardener can harvest from. These are the two raised beds with the colorful rocks the girl scouts made as markers for the herbs and it is located near the shed.

Enjoy. I hope to see you in the garden.

 

Do You Know When to Harvest Onions?

I was recently asked this question in the garden.

If you know the clues,  onions tell you.

When onions are mature, the tops yellow and naturally fall over.

When most of the onion planting has flopsy tops, harvest. To harvest dig around the bulbs, pull them up and cure them by spreading them on a surface where there is good ventilation. I have found using an old window screen as a shelf in the corner of the garage works well.

Let them dry for two to three weeks. You know they are ready when the tops are dry and the outer skin is paper dry, crisp to the touch.  Trim off the roots and tops.

If your harvest was abundant and you want to store some for winter, place them in a container with good air flow. Some people use mesh bags but a cardboard box with some holes cut through works too.

If the onions are kept cool, around 40 degrees, and away from sunlight they can last for months.

Gardener’s Tip: While you are harvesting onions, try not to bruise them. They will last longer.