After the First Frost

First frost is always a hectic time around here. The day before sees Rebecca and me running around trying to harvest everything that won’t survive the frost intact (such as tomatoes, okra, and eggplants). We had our first frost on Saturday, so we spent the day trying to get everything picked (after waiting until the last second for the plants to grow as much as possible.

On Sunday Rebecca and I went out to the garden to start picking the items that actually require a frost to taste good. This year we started with the squash and sweet potatoes. Despite the bad summer, we ended up with a nice assortment of both butternut and acorn squash.

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It wasn’t our largest harvest, but it was a lot more than we expected considering we didn’t plant that many plants. We actually had squash growing up inside the tomato cages. The squash performed amazingly well this year. I wish we had planted more of them.

However, the big news for us was the sweet potatoes. We planted just one plant and expected to receive four or five standard sized sweet potatoes and a few smaller ones for our efforts. What we received instead was eight relatively large sweet potatoes and a wealth of smaller ones. The largest sweet potato is a monster that weighs nearly 7 pounds.

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Yes, that really is just one sweet potato. It’s misshapen, but there is only one little crack in the surface and the potato is quite firm. I was expecting something around four pounds, so we were both surprised when we weighed it and the scale showed 6¾ pounds.

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We’re planning to use this one sweet potato to feed our entire family during Thanksgiving this year. I’m not sure how we’d be able to use it otherwise. That’s one big potato.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Every Year is a Good and a Bad Year. This year we had great results with okra and squash. We’ll never forget this monster sweet potato though. What did well for you in your garden this year?  Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Harvest Festival 2012

Last year I told you about some of the things we do for Harvest Festival in Fun is Where You Find It! (Part 3) post. Of course, every year has some similarities. There is the special music and it wouldn’t be Harvest Festival without a few games. Apple cider is always part of our celebration, along with plenty of samples from the garden. Our “kids” (the animals we keep as pets) always play a big role in Harvest Festival too.

As with everything else, this year’s Harvest Festival is a bit different. For one thing, our fruit trees didn’t produce anything. Things started off badly with an early spring that saw the trees bloom well before they should have. A late frost killed off a lot of the blossoms before the pollinators were even out to pollinate them. After that, some heavy winds knocked off a few more blooms. The fruit that did manage to set was killed off during this summer’s drought (we couldn’t even attempt to water all our trees). The result is that we ended up buying two bushels of apples so that Rebecca could make me some apple chips. I know that buying the apples by the bushel was a lot less expensive than buying them in the store, but even so, I wish we hadn’t had to do so.

Nothing goes to waste when we work with items from the garden. Of course, I use one of the apple peelers that produce the really long strands of apple peels. This year is the first time that we’ve had laying hens, so I was curious to see what they would make of the apple peels. They didn’t disappoint. One hen would grab an end of a peel and fly up to the nest box, while another would grab the other end to try and get the peel from the first hen. The two would then play this silly looking game of tug of war, even though there were lots of peels in the dishes. Both chickens just insisted that they really must have that single peel. By the time the chickens had played with the peels for a while, we had apples strung between the windows, rafters, nest box, and the dishes. It looked like some sort of crazy spider web created by a demented spider. By morning, all of the apple peels were gone, which also surprised me considering I had peeled 30 apples to get them. The chickens certainly like fresh fruit.

We don’t just process fruit during Harvest Festival. Our friends offered us some tomatoes and we gratefully accepted them considering our own tomatoes have had an anemic output this year. Rebecca turned the first bushel into salsa, catchup, and a canned salad. We hope to get two additional bushels for juice, whole canned tomatoes, and a bit for wine making. A lot of people enjoy my tomato wine.

It looks like this is going to be a stellar squash year. We have squash vines growing everywhere. Normally, the vines stay within the 40′ × 60′ area as long as we redirect them a bit. This year we have vines trying to grow into the grass and along the rows. There is a squash plant vying for space in one of the tomato cages and slowly edging the tomato out. I saw one trying to grow up the side of an eggplant and another is heading toward our okra. A vine that might normally produce three really nice squash has produced five, six, or possibly more (it’s such a mess out there that I’m having a hard time counting them all). Rebecca has also made all of the zucchini chips we need for the year. (See the Making Use of Those Oversized Zucchinis post for details.)

As I’ve always said, there is something interesting going on with each year. We never get bored here. One of the rewards of being self-sufficient is that you do see the changes wrought by the weather. What do you find exciting about the fall months of the year? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Squash and Pesticides

Rebecca and I avoid pesticide/insecticide use whenever we can. Pesticides cost money, are costly to apply, and tend to ruin our health. They also kill pollinators, which are already in short supply. In fact, we’re able to use other solutions for every pest in the garden other than the squash bug. There is a host of bugs that will attack your squash, but the squash bugs seem to be the worst in this area.

Most other bugs are easily picked off (such as the tent caterpillars we squash by hand in the spring), drown in standard dish washing soap, killed using an environmentally safe method, or otherwise controlled. Mulching (see my Mulching Your Garden post) can help control bugs, as will keeping your garden weeded. One of the few good reasons to mow your lawn is to keep pests under control by reducing the places they can hide. (I’m a strong advocate of mowing the lawn less often to reduce mower emissions and to make the grass a length usable for purposes other than filling the landfill.)

The squash bug will infest a squash or cucumber patch quickly in spring and will continue infesting it until every plant is completely destroyed. Adult squash bugs are incredibly difficult to kill. The pictures I’ve seen online don’t quite depict the monsters that we have in our area:

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I happen to catch this picture of one of our squash bugs. A single counting on one plant turned up 42 of themall breeding. As you can see, the picture here shows a bug considerably bigger than the bugs you’ll find on most sites online. I’m not sure why ours grow so large, but they are quite vigorous.

The eggs also aren’t limited to the underside of the leaf. The bugs seem quite happy to put them on both sides of the leaf and in large clusters. Here is just one cluster:

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As you can see, this cluster is on the top of the leaf and it isn’t in the V pattern discussed in online sources. The point is to examine the plant thoroughly for squash bugs because they’re determined to destroy your plants.

To keep pesticide use at a minimum, check the leaves regularly for these clusters. Trying to pick the eggs off won’t workyou’ll end up damaging the leaf and it’ll die. The eggs hatch in one to two weeks and get darker as they get nearer to hatching. These eggs are just about ready to hatch, so yesterday I applied Seven (Carbaryl) to the affected plants. I’ve been looking into some of the more environmentally friendly solutions, but so far Seven is the solution that works best. If you have a bug infestation, try some of these other solutions first, before you use Seven.

You can’t apply Seven three days before harvest (more if you want to be careful). In fact, once the plants start blossoming robustly, you don’t really want to use any sort of pesticide (it’s essential to look after pollinator health). The best idea is to look for the squash bugs early in the season and attack them vigorously so that you start with a strong vine. If you see eggs after the blooms start, try drowning them using a limited application of neem oil. Insecticidal soap is completely ineffective on hard bodied squash bugs. Smash adult bugs using your fingers if there aren’t too many of them.

There is a point each season where we lose the bug battle. The squash bugs simply overwhelm every defense we can mount. However, by that time our squash have grown quite large and produced well for us. The vines die too early, but not before they produce usable output for us. To ensure we get enough squash, we simply plant more plants knowing that they will die too early from the invading plague. Yes, we could keep them completely under control using Seven, but only at the cost of our own health and the health of our pollinators, so this approach represents a good compromise that ensures an adequate harvest. Let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.