King and Queen of the Garden

October 10th, 2014

Every year, I keep an eye on the outstanding performers in my garden. These have to be varieties that thrive despite my relatively low level of management, and can be grown without the use of synthetic fungicides or insecticides.

On top of that, I want these plants to make the tastiest produce that I can imagine, or maybe even exceed my wildest taste bud fantasies.

This year, the top varieties in my garden were Tasty King cucumber and New Queen watermelon. They reigned all summer long, and the New Queen was just about the most delicious watermelon that I have ever tasted, other than an off the charts melon grown on the NC Bogue Banks that I bought right out of the field from the grower.

The summer squash also did pretty well this year, holding up for most of the season despite squash bug pressure. My poor record keeping strikes again: those hardy squash plants were either Supersett or Gentry, but I’m not sure which. I’ll plan to plant both of those again next year and do another trial.

The $64 Plumcot

June 17th, 2014

Every once in a while, I’ll meet a back to the lander who harkens back to the 1970′s and will share stories about the good ol’ days with me. They tell tales of honey bee colonies that needed no care other than harvesting the honey a couple of times a year, and orchards so carefree and full of plums, peaches and other goodies that all they had to do was take a bother to take break from shaking their tambourines in order to harvest the fruit and turn it into jam, brandy or whatever else suited them.

I don’t know if things were really that good back then, or if they are just yanking my chain, but my experiences with organic fruit growing in North Carolina do not jive with their recollections.

When I look at my orchard, I spy a sea of cedar apple rust, a smattering of fire blight and brown rot that is legion. Insects, squirrels and my very own chickens try to make off with what the bacteria and fungi haven’t already claimed.

But, reminiscent of the parable about the Buddhist monk savoring berries while he is dangling precariously from the edge of a cliff, any fruit that manages to make it into my mouth tastes especially sweet.

So far this year, I have enjoyed strawberries that escaped both frost damage and relentless browsing by deer. The pounds of cherries that we pitted and froze were a bountiful and delicious reminder that all of our fruit growing is not doomed to failure (only a little bit of brown rot on some of the fruit).

And, the sweetest victory so far this season: a few velvety Spring Satin plumcots. I ate them while standing under the trees canopy, closing my eyes so that I wouldn’t look up at the brown-rotted brethren of the fruit that I was ingesting.

I try to savor every piece of fruit that I get from the orchards and fields, and do my best to not dwell on the masses of rotted “mummy” fruit that I am going to have to harvest and dispose of. In an interview with NPR, William Alexander, author of “The $64 Tomato” made a statement that I agree with: “it’s not about what it actually costs to eat this piece of fruit. It’s really about lifestyle. And the garden really for us was a kind of family member, for better or for worse.”

I could (and do!)have worse family members than my beloved brown rotted trees. I’m living the dream, but being careful to not bite into any bugs while I do it.

Full of Beans

April 23rd, 2014

Yesterday, I planted edamame and pole beans. After the winter we had, planting beans seems optimistic, even this late in the season. I still have been bracing for more snow.

Anyhow, I planted a couple of my favorite varieties: Tamara pole bean and Red Noodle. I also planted a couple of new varieties that I wanted to try: Emerite and Orient Wonder pole beans.

And I can never give up on edamame, although they have always been very hit or miss for us and tend to get devoured by rodents even when they do produce a good crop. I planted a short season variety, Karikachi, to see if that increases our success.

I also had a packet of Black Pearl soybean sitting around (packed for 2010!?) that I planted alongside the other soybeans. I think that they are also an edamame bean, but seem to be hard to come by these days, so I’ve been having trouble finding a variety description for them.

I originally got them from Territorial seed. I guess I should have saved their 2010 catalog along with the seeds. . . Ugh. Call the hording police!

Steinernema, My Steinernema

October 18th, 2013

Daisy, my American Quarter Horse mare, is very susceptible to becoming infected with internal parasites, especially a class of parasites called strongyles.  Strongyles, often referred to as roundworms, can cause damage to her digestive tract and blood vessels, so it’s very important to try to keep Daisy Strongyle-free.

These nasty bugs are resistant to deworming medicines and infect horses frequently–Strongyles are in almost every pasture and are the most common internal parasite found in horses.

Most horses can fend off Strongyles through a strong response from their immune systems, but a certain percentage of horses aren’t able to shake these bugs.  Daisy is one of those horses.

How do we know that she’s such a premium lunch ticket for Stronglyes?  We keep tabs on them by testing her manure frequently,  sending off samples to a lab for testing every couple of months.

I asked the vet what we should do to try to lower Daisy’s parasite load, and she recommended a Panacur Power Pack–a double dose of Fenbendazole dewormer every day for five days.  I gave Daisy the Power Pack according to directions and submitted a manure sample to the lab three weeks after the deworming, per the vet’s instructions.

Unfortunately, the deworming was only moderately effective, lowering Daisy’s parasite burden by about twenty percent.

So, I am trying to come up with alternate solutions.  One of them is to change the location where I feed them their hay in order to keep them from eating straight off of the ground.  Now I feed them on rubber stall mats that I clean regularly.

Another solution that I had never heard of anyone trying also popped into my brain:  what if we could find a beneficial insect that would either eat the Strongyles or drive them out of the horses’ pasture?

I called my buddy Eric Acosta at and picked his brain for a few minutes.  After explaining the scenario to him, he recommended that I should apply some predatory nematodes to the pasture in order to see if they will be voracious enough to put a cramp the Strongyles’ style, either by eating some of them or crowding them out of town.

He recommended a species of nematode called Steinernema feltiae, a hungry type of nematode that cruises around looking for things to eat but also has the capacity to pick a target (their favorite food) and attack it.

Since this species of nematode also like to eat fly eggs, I figured that applying them to the pasture was a no lose scenario:  even if they don’t get rid of the Strongyles, they might help decrease our fly population.  I placed an order for fifty million of the little guys.

The nematodes arrived in the mail yesterday, and I put them out on the pasture within an hour or their arrival.  I mixed a teaspoon of them into a gallon of water in my watering can and watered a small section of the pasture with them.  I repeated this process about 30 times until all of the nematodes had been set free in their new home.  I wish them luck!