Monday, August 23, 2010

Organic farm!

I revoke my previous posting about Darko Urban Farm going inorganic. I stopped by Stone Brothers last week to ask if I could use the cow pesticide on the alarming aphid infestation that took over the crowder peas. They assured me that I could, and in passing, mentioned that the cow pesticide (I call it that because it has a picture of a cow on the bag and states that you can apply said pesticide to livestock!) is pyrethrin!

I certainly abhor a broad spectrum pesticide, and I don't know what I will do once I have bees, but it certainly suits me just fine to use an organic broad spectrum pesticide rather than a synthetic chemical one.

Upshot: I am still killing bees, which sucks, but I am killing them with flower powder. And it really has done an amazing job of killing pests.

Shout outs

Having been away on vacation for a few days, I would like to recount some garden adventures. Driving through Richmond to avoid a traffic jam, I saw a beautiful urban garden. It may have been on the corner of Decatur. I am inspired by it to try and make a cucumber room similar to theirs next year.

I also passed through Pennsylvania Dutch country. The farms were so beautiful and prosperous. I am insanely jealous. Will and I stopped at a small dairy farm that has 50 cows and sells the cheeses the family produces out of a store located on the farm. The cheeses were excellent and the farm beautiful.

I also visited a farmers market that reminded me that I love Durham and that there is no place that can replace its primacy in my heart. I overheard someone ask (the farmer??) where his berries were from and he responded that they were from California. WHAT? I was in upstate New York! There was plenty of lovely, fresh and local produce! I love you, Durham! I love you DFM!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pea aphids

The water blast method of getting rid of aphids is officially a failure. The crowders are COVERED in aphids-- more aphids than before. It appears that water blasting may actually cause them to multiply.

Here are the more useful things I learned:
Pea aphids overwinter on red clover, vetch or alfalfa. Awesome, since those are all great winter cover crops.

They don't, generally, lay eggs in NC, though they are capable of it. Instead, it appears that they have live baby aphids. Great. No pause to the sucking.

Apparently they are susceptible to a fungus of some kind that will kill them all pronto, but I couldn't find anything explaining how to introduce this dread disease, and when I tried, I discovered websites indicating that at some point in their evolution, pea aphids genetically morphed with some fungus and that is why they are green. Super great. Now the uugy aphids are kind of neat and interesting. . .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tomato redux

I harvested so many tomatoes a couple of weeks ago, I thought I could never deal with them all. We canned and dried and ate and ate and ate. Then, one day, no more tomatoes. The plants didn't die or get sick, the tomato train just slowed WAY down. I was out in the garden scrounging for something to feed the bunnies (high summer may be even more difficult than February for collecting bunny food) this morning, and I think the respite may be over. There are a lot of green tomatoes and a wicked lot of flowers. Here's to round two!!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

August in the garden

July went by in a blur of weeding and canning. We have put up tomatoes, tomato sauce, corn (not from the garden-- I find corn hard to grow), crowder peas, lima beans, tomatillos, cucumbers, and we are harvesting peppers. We also have pie pumpkins, butternut squash and a mystery winter squash piling up in the kitchen.

The house reeks of garlic as I try my hand at making pickles the fermented way for the first time. There is a huge bag of tomatillos in the freezer as I wait for cilantro's fall season before making salsa. There are about 30 jars of potatoes in the pantry. So I haven't been blogging, but I have been busy!

Squash bugs recently attacked Alexis' bed of luffas, pumpkins and butternut squash. She applied the pesticide powder with a picture of a cow on it after a consultation with Merrill at Stone Bros. We also got flea beetles on the eggplant. I am not sure if they're why we aren't getting eggplant. There is only one fruit on five plants. The flowers keep turning gray and falling off. If I liked eggplant more, I would look into it. And the crowders have aphids. I sprayed them with water until they came off a few days ago. I need to get out there and see if they are back.

Amber and Alexis came out a couple of weekends ago when we had two lovely 75 degree days and we pulled a pile of weed so huge that I was too ashamed to throw it over the fence into Amber and Tom's backyard. So it is still sitting in my backyard!

Oh and here is a great story. I harvested a bunch of dried lima beans and was inside hulling them. It turns out that ANTS will live in the pods. Eeeeewwwww. I would crack the pods open and hundreds of ants would pour out. It was completely repulsive.

There is lots more news, but I will stop with this excitement-- Alexis and Will and I built a top bar beehive last weekend!!! Bees will move in in March or April!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Potato princesses dig!

Sunday, Alexis and I harvested 1/3 of the potatoes. Harvesting potatoes is great fun, even when it is 100 degrees. Which it was. But it is like a treasure hunt. Alexis even claims that she enjoyed it. Potatoes are the best!

Will canned 11 jars of potatoes and there are still more in the harvest bucket. Will says there are enough for 6 more quart sized cans.

Will helped me stake a bunch of the tomatoes on Sunday and we staked five more Tuesday evening after work. Twenty or so more and we will be done! And we will be drowning in tomatoes. They were so small and cute when they sprouted so I had to plant them all. And now I have a tomato jungle.

There are days when it seems like the bugs and weeds are winning. And then there are days like Sunday, when what appear to be dead potato plants covered in weeds yield up enough potatoes to keep us fed all winter long. Golden potatoes that appear like a prize as I swirl my hands through warm, dark dirt. I think that, aside from seeing baby seedlings appear in February, the gardening thing that makes me most feel like crying for the sheer amazingness of it all is the potato harvest.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Early on a Sunday

I woke up at 6 am and headed out to the garden. It has been over 90 degrees everyday for weeks and so I have to get out there early to avoid heat stroke! I weeded the front yard bed, which contains peppers and some volunteer potatoes that I missed in last year's harvest, also some tough parsley left over from when the front yard bed was the winter garden and today I noticed that kale has started coming up as well. Every day I learn more about how tough plants are! I used to baby them and cry if something bad happened. Now I cover them with mulch and tell them I will see them in a few weeks!

The peppers are doing better this year than in past years so far. They generally don't thrive until fall when it cools down.

I am a member of the Bull City Garden Exchange, a listserv/community group about gardening in Durham. We have been discussing two of my pressing questions of the summer--pepper difficulty and sterile squash family plants. Apparently Stone Brothers staff recommended calcium for the peppers. And someone said they hand pollinate squash family plants with a paint brush. Sigh. I guess it is time to enhance the sex lives of 30 or so pumpkin, luffa, cucumber and watermelon plants. Woo hoo!

And about those squash plants: I am very nearly holding my breath with hope; Alexis put a plate (made of corn!) under the first Moon and Stars watermelon yesterday!!!! I really hope the plants thrive this year. They got hit by some dread disease last year and the teeny melons rotted on sickly vines. Apparently the rotted melons decided they wanted another go at life and volunteered this year.

In other squash related news: I harvested the first Yamato cue yesterday!!!!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blossom end rot and June beetles

I checked in with the tomato plants and found a plant or two with what appears to be blossom end rot. Eek! A review of the internets revealed that the solution should involve a fertilizing with a low nitrogen and high phosphorus. It will not transfer from plant to plant, so given that I have about 60 other tomato plants, I don't think we are in any danger of running out!

In other news, there are a TON of June bugs eating up the garden. The amaranth has not fared well, and they have discovered the magic rose bush (when we moved in, it was a stick and I didn't like it. Then it blossomed and had about 50 flowers, so I loved it).

Oh! Also, the buckwheat cover crop seems to be putting out the stuff you make buckwheat flour out of. Need to figure out what to do about that. And the tobacco sprouted. I am still waiting for the first cucumber.....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I am the potato princess!!!

Today, I went to grab some beans for dinner and noticed that there were a couple of potatoes poking out of the ground. This is bad because once potatoes start to photosynthesize, they aren't edible. I am going to have a LOT of potatoes this year, it appears. They're busting right out of the ground! So I scratched around a few of the plants close to the path and had twelve good sized, muddy potatoes (it rained a lot this afternoon) before I knew it. Potatoes are the best crop ever. Sometimes I really wonder why tomatoes are the popular backyard choice. I find that they are a lot more finicky and tend toward weird problems that my potatoes just don't seem to have.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Harvest update

Just a quick note to say that I have harvested a ton of green beans from the half runners, the first yamato cucumber has appeared in teeny tiny glory (the plant and I shared a hug; I love love love cucumbers), and the weird sterile squash plants are huge and have now produced 2 unidentifiable fruits from amongst the 10 or so plants. So weird.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Urban Farm goes inorganic

Monday morning before work, I went to Stone Brothers with two leaves; one from the beans that seemed to have some kind of virus and one from the tomatillos being eaten in their entirety by small, dark nasty bugs.

Merrill told me not to worry about the spotty bean leaves since they're setting fruit (in fact, I harvested the first handful of 1/2 runners Monday night). He gave me a red bag of pesticide to dust over the tomatillos. I was fascinated to note that you can also use it to dust your livestock.

So the tomatillo/cabbage bed is organic no more, but I should still be able to make green tomatillo salsa in a couple of months! And I feel better about my responsible use of a small amount of pesticide than about buying organic tomatillos from California. I'm sorry I don't have a picture to share of the fashionable figure I cut while applying the pesticide. I had my sweater tied over my face, sunglasses, and stylish garden gloves. What a way to start a week!

Oh, and to resolve the other garden news, it is just too damn hot for rhubarb. If I plant it again next year as an annual, I will have to remember to harvest it by late May.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bad day for the garden

I went outside to check in with the garden this evening and things are not going well. A large host of tiny, wingless things is munching on the tomatillos. I will need to go to Stone Brothers and find out what they are and how to kill them. They are eating the entire leaf.

The green beans have some kind of fungus, which is turning the leaves golden in spots. Not cool.

And in the final tragedy that I noticed, the rhubarb has completely collapsed. I am not sure if it is sick or if it is just too hot for it.

In happier news, the tomatoes are doing well so far and a couple of plant have already set fruit!!!

I think that it is nearly time to harvest garlic and onions. I need to get a screen on which I can cure them.

Mosquitos wee out in force tonight. I am wicked itchy!!!!

Saturday, June 5, 2010


This post is a bit out of the character of what I imagined for this blog, but we do have non-food plants on the farm and so today I will talk about some of them. Last weekend, we planted some ornamental grasses beside the back porch. Don't ask me why, but this seemed easier than putting up fresh lattice.

We planted two small purple fountain grass plants. Pennisetum setaceum rubrum. It needs six hours of sun, blooms in the summer, grows to be four feet wide and four feet tall. It is hardy only to zone 9, so we'll have to mulch it well in the fall. It should be fertilized in the spring and summer and must be cut back to the ground every spring.

We also planted to large green and white grasses. Miscanthus sinensis cosmopolitan. It needs six hours of sun, blooms in the late summer and fall, grows to be 5-8 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide. It is hardy to zone six. It should be fertilized in spring and summer and should be cut back in late winter.

We planted one other grass that I can't find the ticket for and a butterfly bush(I also have a butterfly bush in the herb garden out front. I will blog about it another time). I can't find the ticket for the butterfly bush either, so I am not sure which cultivar I have, but they all seem to require similar care. The butterfly bush is winter hardy here (hardy to zone 5). It is invasive in the pacific nothwest, but shouldn't be here in NC. It should be deadheaded to encourage new blooms. It should be cut back in early spring, as flowers only develop on new growth.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Welcome to the Darko Urban Farm!

This is the inaugural post for the Darko Urban Farm blog. It seems strange to get started in the summer, but I have to start sometime. The purpose of this blog is to document when I plant things, how they grow, what we harvest, the various bug, weather and disease issues we have on the farm and anything else farm related that strikes my fancy.

The Darko Urban Farm is located in downtown Durham, NC. The farm got its start in February 2009. It was great fun but not a great success in its first year. The soil wasn't particularly wonderful but i planted anyway because I wanted to grow my own food. But in the winter I added chicken poop compost from the Rock Shop, put down some red clover seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and waited for spring.

This year the farm is producing like mad. Soil building and mulching are key.

The goals at the Darko Urban Farm are many:
To produce and store enough produce to avoid the grocery store most days and hit up the amazing Durham Farmers Market for meat and cheese.
To grow our own and get some exercise while doing it.
To keep the bunnies fed all year long.
To get rid of all the grass and have a food forest.
to get good enough at farming that I can do it as my job instead of as my hobby.
To occasionally be moved to tears by how amazing plants are and how beautiful hard work can look.