Friday, June 26, 2009

All About Aphids

Yuck! We found several masses of tiny green aphids loitering on the young leaves of our columnar apple tree earlier this week. They were hiding out on the undersides of the leaves, hoping to be clever and avoid our notice. Happily, they hadn't done much damage by the time we discovered them and set out to get rid of them...

Controlling aphids is relatively easy and doesn't require pesticides. There are numerous techniques, and a quick web search will give you quite a few solutions for ridding your plants of them. Spraying a mixture of vegetable oil and water is one popular method. This inhibits the aphids' ability to get oxygen, killing them off. Bringing ladybugs into your garden is another solution. Ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids. And they look cool too!

We turned to good old fashioned water, spraying the little suckers off our tree's leaves with a spray bottle. This seems to have done the trick, although we needed to go back and respray for a couple of days to completely get rid of them.

The experience was a good reminder that regularly inspecting the plants in your garden is a good idea...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Container Garden Update

About two weeks back we planted some basil as an addition to our container garden. It sprouted up right on cue last week. Basil is one of our favorite things to plant each summer, as homemade pesto has become a tradition in our household the past few years. We also like planting basil because our lovebird is seriously addicted to the dried out stems left over at the end of the season. He goes absolutely crazy when offered a stem as a treat, snapping up the seeds so fast you need to watch your fingers. He smells just delicious after eating them too, though we don't find them particularly attractive ourselves:

Our pepper and cherry tomato plants seem to have adapted well to the outdoors after transplanting. So far they look good and are growing nicely. This is much more than can be said for our peas however. A few weeks back we noted they developed browning leaves, and despite our best efforts to keep them healthy they just struggled. No idea why. We did manage a very meager harvest though, just enough to satisfy the bird for a while. Oh well... We'll try growing them again this fall and hope for better luck...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's Your Garden Story?

Are you getting creative with your gardening this year? Maybe you’re growing a veggie garden in a tight space and are literally tripping over and ducking under your plants. Or perhaps you have a good-sized yard you've decided to turn over entirely to your veggie garden. Either way (and for every sized garden in between), we think it might be fun to share garden photos and accompanying stories on this blog. If you’ve gone all out this year, send us your garden photos along with a brief description of what you’re doing. We’ll share the more interesting gardens here periodically over the next few months…

Monday, June 8, 2009

A True Story of Inspiration from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Although I've been a foodie all my life, this spring I started gardening for the first time ever. As soon as I saw my first little sprouts peek out of their peat pots I was hooked. For further inspiration, my friends recommended I check out the book Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book is a true chronicle of one family's year long project of seasonal, local, eating. In the book Kingsolver and her family forgo almost everything not local. If they can't grow it themselves, they get it from neighborhood farms. I loved it!

The book begins with Kingsolver relocating husband and kids from Arizona to Virginia, where the climate is lush with water and life. (Go east coast!) They settle into her husband's family property and begin to plan out the good life. They don't give up coffee or olive oil--they make a few precious exceptions--but tropical fruits and California produce are forbidden.

Right away I realized Kingsolver makes my first gardening attempts look puny. I got over it, and if you read the book, you will too. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is very inspiring. Kingsolver describes how she and her family do it all: growing all their own veggies, making their own cheese, raising chickens for eggs, and even starting a flock of heritage breed turkeys. On the vegetable front, they impressively raise several varieties of a wide assortment of veggies. The flavor saver in me finds some valuable insights in every chapter. Kingsolver weaves together the days and weeks on her Virginia farm into a seasonal playbook of the good life. Month by month, she relates the phases of growth and speaks about agriculural and cultural politics. Interspersed through the book are essays from her husband Steven Hopp about health vs. government. Her daughter Camille chimes in with more inspring anecdotes and delicious recipes. The subtext of the entire book is that the sustainable life they've found is better in about a thousand different ways from the "mainstream" commercial world they left behind. From health to happiness, Kingsolver describes the many benefits of eating local!

On a personal level, this is a life I know I want to emulate, but I don't own acreage, nor am I a best selling author who has earned the kind of stable (home based) income that Barbara Kingsolver has. It's a lot more challenging to do what Kingsolver has done than to simply read about it, and going all out for a year just isn't realistic for most people.

Still, the book points out that even if you don't have a garden you can help your local farms by buying from them. And the book delivers a ton of other great information, sharing details on things such as canning and preserving. Finally and towards the end you get to the "money" chapter. Here Kingsolver totals what all her family's efforts costs... 50 cents per meal per person. Who doesn't want to spend less time in an office and more time enjoying food and nature with their families at a dramatic cost savings? The point of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I think is to inspire people by showing the real tangible savings and intangible benefits that eating locally can provide.

If you're like me, you probably don't need any more inspiration to start or continue growing at least some of your own food this year. But Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a great read that will get you thinking about the possibilities of truly living local.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Container Garden Update... Thunderstorms!

All of us at Veggie Trader are back from our respective short vacations to Asheville, NC and California. Vacation was great, but we were chased by massive and horrible thunderstorms Tuesday on the way back home from California to Portland. There's nothing like encountering quarter-sized hail on Interstate 5 in the southern Oregon hills to welcome you home!

Here's what the sky looked like shortly before all hell broke loose:

Happily we escaped, but unfortunately the unsettled weather decided to slowly follow us north. Yesterday Portland was hit with a severe thunderstorm. Our deck container garden suffered through it for a good hour. While our trees survived the ferocious winds nicely, our peas didn't come out entirely unscathed. They weren't looking the best before the storm, but now they're really looking pretty sad. Still, each stalk is sporting a few budding peas, so we're going to give them some TLC and see if they make it. Luckily we decided a couple weeks back to hold out on releasing the rest of our tomato and pepper starts to the outdoors until after we returned from our trip, so they are unharmed. We've been hardening them off and plan to transplant them outside permanently next week. We're also going to plant some basil. Hopefully the weather is ready to cooperate and treat our garden well!

While in California we noticed this bookstore window display...

This was spotted in Nevada City, a gold rush era town in the foothills where the shops now tend to cater to tourists instead of miners. Interesting...