Week in Review – Ready, Set, Grow!

22 06 2009

I’ll warn you in advance, this post is long. But if you hang in there you will find a veggie creature that gave me a chuckle. I think it’s worth the read.

I don’t know how I’d ever keep up with this if anything really happened. Every time I step outside I want to take more pictures, then I have another post on my hands. Now that I have some readers (thanks to all of you), I feel the push to keep it going. Special thanks this week goes to my dear old friend, Dori. Your comments tell me that you are just the same thoughtful, encouraging, beautiful person who took me under her wing that first day of school in a new and frightening place. Thanks for still being there!

I’m ready for a change from the garden doom and gloom and happy to say that I have some verdant hope to offer. Most of the past two weeks has been spent problem solving. AJ is working like a full-time mechanic to keep us on the road with our “pre-owned” vehicles. Personally, we prefer to think of them as “future classics”. We like the older cars because…no car payment; also because they are more durable and easier for him to work on. When he takes a break from fixing and maintaining, he isn’t happy unless they are also clean. I know it sounds obsessive, but it’s essential to keep us rolling.

Yesterday, as I did more garden triage, he washed the car. Lookin’ good! (and the car ain’t half bad, either)

Car-Wash

Yesterday was Atomic Grow™ Sunday”. This is the first season that I’ve had a substantial garden. I could have taken a class or read some books and done it right from the start; but that is too easy and I would certainly have lost interest. I’m more of the “test the water by jumping in” type person, so I just planted anything and everything I could squeeze into the small space, with little regard to planting or growing season guidelines. As I am learning, summer in Central Florida is a challenging time for gardeners. Most of what I am trying to grow is supposed to be done or winding down. Heat, and insects become overwhelming for most gardeners this time of year.

Well, as long as a green leaf survives, I’m not giving up on these plants. It sounds kind of crazy to say it, but I feel as though I know them personally. Yes, I even talk to them! I know the feel and texture of each plant. I think that if you blindfolded me and handed me a cutting, I could identify most of them by touch. I know where to look for the most troublesome pests, and spend a good deal of time exposing and eradicating them. I imagine that I can hear a soft whisper of “Thank you” from my green friends.

The pickleworms, cabbage loopers, squash bugs and aphids are causing me the most grief. Atomic Grow™ is not a pesticide. Although it is said that insects can’t handle the sugars created by the plants, the aforementioned critters seem to have no problem munching on mine. I have resigned myself to my twice daily “critter patrol”, but the aphids are the most troublesome. Fortunately, Atomic Grow™ works wonders when directly applied to aphids.

You’ve got to respect ants. They are brilliantly designed and organized. I’m in awe of the “Rancher Ants” in my garden. I don’t know what kind they are, really; but they are bonafide ranchers; and they are raising herds of sweet, juicy aphids on my vegetable plants! The ants drink the aphid excretions or “honeydew”, sometimes actually milking them. They carry their livestock from plant to plant and protect them from predators; even going so far as to destroy ladybird eggs. In the winter, the ants carry aphid eggs into their nests where they are nurtured in optimal temperatures.

These ranchers have been doing a fine job on my cucumber plant. I know that when a plant is swarming with ants there will be plenty of aphids sucking the life out of it. Yesterday I shut down the Cucumber Ranch.

Here is a shot of the underside of a typical cucumber leaf, yesterday (minus the ants, which scurried away):

Aphids

Here is a closeup, showing the adults and babies. They look so cute and fresh. I almost wish I were an ant so I could enjoy some aphid honeydew; but since I’m not, they must die.

Aphids-Closeup

I mixed up a batch of Atomic Grow™ and went to work. Atomic Grow™ affects their chitin layer (skin), and causes them to dry up. In order for it to work, you must apply it to all areas of the plant; with special attention to the leaf bottoms and new tips, where aphids congregate. The ants went crazy and took off. The spray has an effect on ants, too; but there are so many that it doesn’t take long for them to return. Jim Shellenback from Atomic Grow™ recommends spraying every five days when pests are so active. I can see why, because it is a constant battle.

The good news is that it works! Here are some shots of the same plant this morning:

Aphids After AG2

Aphids-after-AG

Most of the aphids are gone. Of the ones remaining, most are dead and drop off with the brush of a finger. I did find a couple still alive, and I suspect that the ants have begun bringing them back. Still, a huge difference! I think that a couple of applications is all it will take to deplete the ants’ backup stock. I have used Atomic Grow™ to eliminate aphids on my peas and beans with great success.

In addition to aphid control on the cucumbers, I applied Atomic Grow™ to the entire garden. I also watered everything with a vinegar solution to work towards balancing the soil pH. Looking back at the abuse I have given this garden, I am more and more convinced that Atomic Grow™ is a main factor in keeping most of it alive. As always, I awoke to find things looking better after the spray. Take a look.

This celery was croaking two weeks ago. The pale leaves you see were much worse, and many were actually white from chlorosis. The foliar applications of Manganese Sulfate, Iron Sulfate and Atomic Grow™ have made a marked improvement. The color is starting to seep back into the leaves.

Celery2

Here is a closeup of a celery plant. The mottled leaves were white before the treatments.

Celery

Ditto for this red pepper plant. Still showing chlorosis, but many times better than before.

Red-Pepper-New-Growth

The Italian parsley never got very pale, but it has sent out a swath of new growth this week.

Attention: Veggie Creature coming up!

Italian-Parsley

The Poblano plants are responding especially well. See that dark green? That’s all new.

Poblano-New-Growth

Boo!

Scream-Pepper

Does it remind you of this?

The_Scream or this?  Scary Movie

OK, enough of that silliness. Check out the watermelon vine!

Watermelon-New

Two weeks ago this thing was completely yellow and brittle without a hint of a surviving female flower, let alone a fruit. I was seriously planning to scrap this plant and wait for next season. If you recall, it was the watermelon symptoms which ultimately led me to the Manganese deficiency diagnosis; and it is the same vine that is now responding the best of all. The new growth is lush and green, and even the old (once hopeless) sections are showing improvement. What is pale green in the upper section of this image was once whitish yellow and so brittle as to crack in your hands. And the best part…

Watermelon

Baby watermelons! After the spray treatments, the watermelon sent out spurts of new growth, covered in male and female flowers. I have learned that it takes an average of eight visits by a bee to pollinate a female watermelon flower. Because they are nondescript and only open for a single day, the chances of pollination are very limited. I have recently begun experimenting with hand pollination by picking a male flower, removing the petals and rubbing the pollen onto the female flower. It really works. In addition to this little beauty, I have two more which I believe may come to fruition.

Baby-Watermelon

The carrots are much greener and putting out new growth.

Carrots

At the seed swap I heard it told that tomato season is coming to an end. Apparently it is too hot. Please don’t say this out loud in my garden. I just counted 55 tomatoes on these plants in The Oasis, and upwards of 100 cherry tomatoes on the plant in O2. Stepping outside to count them was like walking into a pizza oven, but I’m keeping them watered and crossing my fingers.

Oh, and by the way…the leaf spot fungus is all but gone; thanks to Atomic Grow™.

Tomatoes

Here is my latest project: “Tomato Alley”. Eight heirloom plants (two each of Cherokee Purple, Indian Stripe, Black Krim and Brandywine ) from seeds given to me by Suzanne Malone. The end bucket has two Okra seeds (again, fingers crossed). This is an experiment in growing delicate tomatoes under the worst of conditions. I have chosen the smallest of each type to treat with Atomic Grow™. It will be interesting to see the difference between the treated and control plants, and if any of them survive at all.

Smokey now accompanies me on my morning and afternoon rounds.

Tomato-Alley

Here is the papaya that Mike Whitlow gave us. It is also responding well to the treatments.

Papaya

I was happy to discover a new predator on the Cherry Tomato plant. I moved in for a closeup and didn’t see this Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans (Hentz) until I was very close. Trusting her camouflage, she didn’t budge, as I grabbed the camera for a couple quick shots. The wind was blowing, so I’ll have to find her on a calm day and get some better photos. These spiders are a mixed blessing, as they eat destructive moths and beneficial bees and wasps, alike.

Green-Spider

Here is how The Oasis looks today (overgrown and somewhat messy).

Oasis

And here is O2.

O2

The muskmelon vines are barely hanging on. It’s a race to ripeness for these three melons. And then I wonder if they will taste OK. Time will tell.

Muskmelon

Remember the baby bananas? They are slowly growing.

Old-Bananas

And here are their counterparts from the other stand. This flower is much larger, and appeared immediately after the spray treatments. This first hand has eight bananas and we hope there are more to come.

New-Bananas

Well, there it is! I’m finally caught up on my regular posts. The next thing you see from me will be all about Atomic Grow™ and how you can get some for your own garden, lawn or even house plants.

For now I leave you with Silly Cat:

Smokey-Sleeps

See ya’ very soon!

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Living Lean

13 04 2009

I know I promised to stay away until Tuesday. I would like to apologize to all three of my readers for continuing to ramble on about nothing in particular:)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I have never been privy to wealth or luxury. Even when I made decent money I preferred to wear vintage clothing and stock my home with thrift store and garage sale finds. For a period in the early to mid 1990s this was an acceptable if not admirable approach. The trends of frugality predictably correlate with periods of economic distress. Although frugality waned during the recent time of economic “prosperity” I see a resurgence on the horizon.

Growing up poor endowed me with a wealth of skills and advantages, many of which I am only just beginning to appreciate. Once you realize that not having Adidas brand shoes or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans will not kill you, a certain feeling of liberation takes over. I won’t deny that I have suffered a lot of shame and embarrassment, especially when I didn’t have the money to repay others who had treated me with hospitality of gifts; but have recently come into a greater understanding of how we became a nation of conspicuous consumers.

I’m going to tell you right now that if you were planning to read the rest of this post and (I wish) other posts in my blog I’d suggest you stop and dedicate your time to reading this article, instead: The Gospel of Consumption by Jeffrey Kaplan

Are you still here? OK, I hope you checked out that article because it describes my philosophy and understanding of consumerism better than I will ever do.

In my quest to “Question Everything” I have uncovered some nasty truths about the things we are being sold. Most of them we don’t need at all and many are actually poisoning us. The question I always ask is “How did we get by before X was invented?”. Granted, many modern discoveries have drastically improved our quality of life. Penicillin comes to mind. But for just about every product or food we think we must use there is a natural and healthy alternative. For the longest time I resisted even thinking about these things, because giving up what I was used to seemed like so much trouble. Funny how being broke helps change one’s perspective.

My Aunt Melanie & Uncle Pete were way ahead of the curve on this subject and have been giving things like natural cleaners and homemade, organic spice mixes for Christmas for many years. Although I am a bit slow on the uptake I am gradually coming around. I believe the key to this is to take small steps. Giving up everything can be a bit of a shock, and it is too easy to revert to the old habits.

To give you some examples I will share the changes I have made in my life, as well as the underlying motivators.

  • No more deodorant. This you might find most shocking, but bear with me. Deodorant is toxic. Check out this article for a brief and easy to understand explanation of what is in deodorant and how it is linked to cancer. Now, I’m guessing you are thinking “I can’t give up deodorant and antiperspirant, I sweat too much.” Well, I used to sweat too much too; and it seemed like no amount of deodorant could stem the tide. Remarkably, after a few weeks of eschewing antiperspirant I realized that I didn’t sweat much at all any more, and when I did it evaporated rapidly. This makes perfect sense. When you fight against your body’s natural activities, it will try that much harder to compensate. Once I stopped forcing my body to sweat it stopped sweating excessively on its own. Of course there is the risk of being stinky. In a society where smelling chemically fresh is of social importance I don’t recommend letting yourself go stinky; although I have known plenty of people who use deodorant and still get a bit of funk every now and then. I try to keep clean and splash my armpits with alcohol once in a while, but since I stopped using deodorant I don’t seem to have any complaints (and I do believe that AJ would say something).

  • No more toothpaste. The safety of fluoride is one of the greatest lies peddled to the masses. If you find yourself thinking our government is trustworthy then just ask why they allow aluminum manufacturers to dispose of their toxic waste in our drinking water and oral hygiene products. The FDA and the corporations involved are quite aware of how toxic this manufacturing byproduct is, yet they have managed to pass it off not only as safe, but as good for you! Don’t take my word for it, research it on your own. I don’t use toothpaste with fluoride. Right now I brush my teeth with a brush dipped in non-fluoride mouthwash and baking soda. Unfortunately, baking soda is also loaded with aluminum, and as soon as I can get some I plan to switch to aluminum free baking soda such as Bob’s Red Mill. One thing at a time.

  • Organic food as much as possible. I heard an anecdote about an organic produce salesman who made his point by holding up a tomato, spraying it with Raid, wiping it off and then asking “Would you buy this?”. The obvious answer is “no”, but the truth is we do it all the time. We like our produce colorful and blemish free, but that perfection comes with a toxic price tag. Ideally, I would never eat commercially grown produce again; however I am doing the best I can by growing as much as my garden will supply and choosing organic whenever I am able.

  • More natural cleaning, personal care and pest killing products. Most of what I used to use around the house has been replaced with baking soda, vinegar, alcohol, olive oil and boric acid. I still use Dawn dish soap, but dilute it heavily with water. I also cut my regular laundry detergent with Borax. Last year we had an intrusion of roaches and ants. Expensive bug killers seemed to have no effect. Then I bought an inexpensive container of boric acid powder, and within a few days of using it there were no roaches to be seen. The ants are a constant battle, but the boric acid has made a drastic improvement.

  • Cutting out most processed food and condiments. My rule of thumb in the kitchen is to ask myself “Can I make this myself from better ingredients?” or “Can I do without it?”. If I answer “Yes” to either question I try to eliminate the processed product with its chemicals, chance of contamination and heavy packaging from my shopping list.

  • Composting. This one is a work in progress. I envy the serious composters who really have a good composting system. Tomorrow promises to be a good day for my pathetic compost heap. I rescued a bag of leaves from a neighbor who raked today; and we should have enough leftover topsoil to give the heap a jump start. One of these days I also plan to pick up some free horse manure and add that in, too.

  • Barter and Free sharing. I belong to a group called freecycle.org. This is a great one for picking up all sorts of things you can use, as well as for passing along things you might otherwise send to the landfill. Today I joined a local community called Fruit Swap of Brevard. This looks like a promising opportunity to trade some of my surplus garden produce for things I am not able to grow here. And don’t forget craigslist.org. They have a barter and free sections where you can find all sorts of interesting things. I plan to look into a local bartering network to trade some things I have sitting around. But again, one thing at a time.

There are certainly more examples, such as how I can’t pass a dumpster or pile of discards without checking for interesting stuff, or how I do my damndest not to drink bottled water; but I think this is enough for one post. The best part about living lean is the challenge of finding creative solutions. I have always gotten a thrill out of getting something for free or making something from scratch. I challenge each of you to inventory your own life and see if there is something you can do to cut costs, waste and pollution. You might surprise yourself.

And P.S. If I start to stink, please let me know. I’ll do the same for you:)