Thursday, July 8, 2010

First Summer Post

Hello Gardeners,
We certainly have had a warm and busy past two months at the Duke Community garden. Many exciting events have and continue to come our way. Our plants are bountiful (the tomatoes are my favorite), our dirt is rich and we need some more rain!!! But thanks to the person who invented the garden hose, we shall survive until we are graced with a good downpour.
Recently we have been invited to participate in a Sustainable Sites Initiative project with the SMART Home. An outside landscaping company, called The Hayter Firm, and John Deere will be providing the funding and architectural/structural/landscaping genius while incoorporating the ideas and plans of the student body and Duke Univeristy officials. We have not officially agreed to participate as we have not see a final plan to date. Please keep checking the e-mail sent through the list serve for the latest information on this and other projects.
On a separate note, we are still having community workdays from 6-9 on Wednasdays and 8-11 on Sundays, and all are welcome.
Until next time,
your summer gardener,

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

February Update

Time for another garden update! The rest of nature may be sleeping, but the garden is not! Our swiss chard, celery, broccoli, lettuce and Brussels sprouts thrived throughout the winter and have been giving up some of their last produce just in time for a spring planting. Most important, however, is the slow winter growth of our eighteen fruit trees and twenty-four blueberry bushes that we finished planting right before spring break. Although it'll take some time to determine who survived and who didn't, many of the plants are sending out buds and fresh branches in preparation for spring. We're looking forward to incorporating these eager young trees and bushes as permanent members in the garden.

These plants will have some company! If you come by the garden, you will notice rows and rows of new raised beds in between the trees. These were made at the very end of spring break by our construction team and are the focus of an exciting new program. In exchange for an hour of work each month, volunteers will be able to grow their own food in individual raised beds. We hope that this effort will provide members of the Duke community with an opportunity to interact and experiment with nature. This program is open to both experienced and inexperienced gardeners. We welcome participation in the main garden as well. We'll soon be holding free educational workshops on the basics of gardening, so feel free to come on by and learn how to plant, tend and ultimately grow your own food!

This planting season will continue with more cold-weather crops going in the ground shortly. Work continues on the individual raised beds. We're laying newspaper in and around the beds to reuse some old materials for new purposes. We fill the beds with topsoil and compost, then mulch around them to beautify the area. As this project continues, a major construction project is being realized in the garden. An update about it will come soon!

Come out for some nature time and relaxing work in the sun! Our works days this semester are on Sundays from 2-4pm and Thursdays from 1:30-3:30pm. We hope to see you there!

The Garden Crew

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Orchard Plans

Hi everyone!

We've got a major change coming to the garden soon, so I thought that this would be a good time for an update. The garden is transitioning from summer to winter well, and as the summer plants die off and produce less and less, the winter crops that have been plagued by bugs and excessive heat all year are healthier and leafier than ever. It's hard to watch the mainstays go- particularly the okra and tomatoes- but it's also good to see the plants for the next season develop. We've prepared for winter, though, and mulched the beds and set up stakes so that we can extend the life of the annuals by protecting them from minor frosts with sheets of fabric and plastic.We've been in touch with groups and individuals on campus for selling our produce, and soon we'll have a final harvest of summer plants that we'll sell to those groups and on the plaza.

The anticipated selection of crops for the winter is: Kale, Collard Greens, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Leeks, and Swiss Chard.

The major plans for the cold season are already at our front door. We've ordered 44 fruit trees and berry bushes that are coming in time for a volunteer workday on Sunday. We'll try to get them all in the ground, but may also have to dig a trench to place them in if we can't finish by the end of the work day. Essentially, we can dig a trench deep enough for the plants, place them at an angle within it, cover them with soil and water them regularly, and they should be ok until we are ready to plant them.

The trees and bushes we are planting are:
4 Improved Kieffer Pear Tree 4-5'
2 Fuji Apple Tree 3-4'
2 Braeburn Apple Tree 3-4'
2Tanenashi Persimmon Tree 1-2'
4 Italian Everbearing Fig Tree 2-2.5'

1 Eastern Seedling PawPaw Tree 4-5'
1 Collins Select PawPaw Tree 4-5'
8 Tifblue Blueberry Plant 1-2'
8 Briteblue Blueberry Plant 1-2'
4 Brightwell Blueberry Plant 2-3'
4 Austin Blueberry Plant 2-3'
2 Golden African Banana Plant Mother Bulb
2 American Elderberry 4-5'

We are, needless to say, very excited about these new additions! Their addition will be the first of a long series of winter projects including landscaping, working on the terrace, managing seedlings, and building a perennials bed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

We've been doing a lot of interesting projects in the garden lately. If you visit the garden, you'll see some squares of cinder blocks in a corner. These are beds for potatoes. It's common to use tires to grow potatoes, as they will constantly push up through new soil and send out new roots that can grow more potatoes. you can just add another tire and fill it with soil when the potato plant is tall enough. We don't have tires, so we're using cinder blocks for our new levels instead.

We have also started building an herb bed on the terrace. First, we dug out the grass behind the terrace and lined the rock with the newspaper to prevent weed growth and covered them with Carolina grit. Then, we laid down weed fabric on the borders of the bed and put the blue and red rocks on it, making a nice border for the bed. We filled one section with topsoil and another with some of the loose dirt from the excavations below the terrace; as this is going to be a perennial herb bed, we need sections for herbs that need either nutrient-rich or poor soil. I've bought echinacea and rosemary to go in it already, and am starting lavender and spearmint as well.

We'll be throwing a garden party early in the school year, and part of the planning for it is already visible in the back of the garden. We'll be giving away seedlings of herbs, and they're sprouting in the back on a pallet. The ones covered in plastic wrap are the herbs more difficult to sprout. Similarly to or program with the beans, the recipient will hold onto the plant for the winter and have the option of bringing it back to the garden in the spring or keeping it.

The plants are all coming along nicely. The snap peas are coming in just in time for the school year, the arugula is well-established, and the summer squash is producing well. The squash has really been a great producer for the summer, up there with the tomatoes, edamame, okra and NZ spinach- I recommend that we plant these all again next year!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 21, 2009

A lot of things are just starting to grow in the garden. I've thinned all of the new vegetables I planted, so they should start to develop fairly soon. The tomatoes are coming in quickly, and the broccoli is finally starting to grow heads. This is big news, as I wasn't sure if it would sprout in the summer heat. Broccoli will continue to produce side heads after the main head is harvested, so it should be fairly productive.It is really important to control the cabbage worms now, as they could destroy the crop.

We're going to start collecting newspaper for weed control. It's a cheap alternative to weed fabric, and a great way to do some small-scale recycling. If you come out to a work day, please bring newspaper or cardboard with you!

We have a couple of plants in the garden that aren't very popular. I think they're delicious, and they're highly productive and nutritious. These are kale and collard greens, and I thought I would show how they can be cooked. There's a lot of interesting ways to cook them, but one really tasty recipe is sesame kale. There's a receipe here: Essentially, you just chop up the leaves and then stir fry them with some shallots, soy sauce and sesame seeds. It sounds tasty!

Pest Control

As many of you have probably noticed, we have a couple of pests in the garden. The number one complaint so far is mosquitoes- which are tremendously bad for the area. We're doing a number of things to get rid of them. Matt has put up a bat house- this should start attracting bats next season, which will eat the mosquitoes. I've planted pennyroyal in various places around the garden. The herb is a strong bug repellent and will hopefully keep mosquitoes away from us.

One of the most obvious things in the garden- that I've gotten a lot of questions about- is all the holes in the leaves. These are caused by a common pest, the cabbage worm. It feeds on vegetable leaves, and as you can see, many of our plants are affected. The pest is a white moth that flies above our crops, periodically laying eggs on the plants. The larvae hatch and gnaw holes in our leaves. I'm using a couple of methods to control them. For starters, I planted chamomile everywhere. The flower is aromatic, which means it will attract a non-stinging wasp that lays its eggs in the larvae. While I wait for those to grow, I'll sprinkle corn meal on the affected plants- larvae that eat it will bloat and die.

Another problem is visible on the tomato plants. Something is causing the tomatoes to go from looking like this :

To this :
This is not caused by a mold or insect, but instead by a mineral deficiency in the soil. Calcium is not being properly delivered to the fruit. This could be caused by a couple of things- it could be that there is simply not enough calcium in the soil or that there is a pH imbalance inhibiting delivery. An ideal range for tomatoes is 6.5. When I tested the pH of our soil it came out to be 7.0, so the problem isn't its acidity. I sprinkled a minimal amount of garden lime around each plant to try to improve the soil's calcium content. I've also mulched around the tomato plants, as the problem can be caused by uneven water supply. The mulch will help keep the roots constantly damp.

These are the things that are plaguing the garden. We also had our first rabbit attack yesterday- they stripped two collard plants. Hopefully, they won't come back, otherwise we might have to put up a fence.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20, 2009

Hi everyone!

Things have been progressing well at the garden, and it looks absolutely beautiful right now. Last week, we started digging the perennials bed and planted a section of it with the strawberries. It looks great, and there's still room for more- twelve plants in total. Our plans are to include two more beds for asparagus and rhubarb, but those need to be planted in the early spring so we have some time before the beds need to be finished. We may dig some temporary herb beds above the terrace as well and establish some perennials there.

In the meantime, I have replanted the recently harvested beds with some new crops- bok choi, spinach, arugula, brussels sprouts, collard greens, and summer squash. I'm looking forward to the latter, as they should be highly productive fairly soon. Brussels sprouts are a good choice for this time of year, as they will produce their least bitter crop towards the fall. We also planted the new trellis with indeterminate sugar snap peas- those'll be good producers for the rest of the year.

With the garden planted for now, we'll be turning our attention to some other things. First off is weed control- we'll be weeding fairly regularly; we've already finished one side of the bean terrace that was almost overgrown. We'll do the same thing in and around the raised beds this week. This will prevent the weeds from seeding our beds any more than they already have. We also need to mulch the squash and tomatoes; this will give the frequently thirsty plants a more constant water supply. We'll also harvest regularly and dig new areas.