GANG garden workshop: “Summer Assessment, Seed Saving and Planting the Fall Garden. . .”

Notice all the lotuses in the pond. I keep clearing them out so the fish get some sun, and they really appreciate it, flashing up to my hand as I pull out vines along the edges. This fall we will have to go in and "muck out" the pond for the first time, after three years.

. . . except that we forgot about seed saving. And we only got part-way through the garden in our assessment. We did plant a few beds for fall, with greens, tatsoi, beets, radishes, and peas.

What happened?

Well, it’s been so damned hot and humid for so many weeks, night and day, and frankly, I think we’re all enervated. The last thing any of us needed was to spend an entire day in the blazing, wet heat. So we didn’t. Note to self: never schedule an all-day workshop in the heat of summer. Three hours in the morning is plenty.

Oh, and there’s more! Nathan had a late evening paid music gig an hour and a half away on Saturday evening, so asked if he could come at 10 rather than 9 am. A couple of people who were signed up, didn’t show up. A couple of people who didn’t sign up did show up. On and on. Rhonda was supposed to co-teach with Nathan, but her daughter Maya won best of class with one of her rabbits (congrats, Maya!), so they had to go to the state fair. Luckily, Stephanie (who taught the Children’s Workshop) was able to come and assist Nathan.

(And, wouldn’t you know, the class was held during a Mercury Rx period (happens three times a year, for three weeks at a time, and tends to foul up areas involving communication and transportation. Best for going inwards and communing with one’s muse; not so good for connecting clearly with others.) That wouldn’t stop me from doing what I plan to do, unless it would be signing contracts. And, BTW: that “debt deal” was signed on the very day Mercury turned to go retrograde. . . .)

To top it off, the class was held on Sunday, the day before everybody knew the stock market would crash, triggered by the S&P downrating of U.S. debt in a year when the Arab Spring seems to be hissing up from a thousand cracks in the rigid hierarchial global control system.. The economic/political atmosphere, I think it’s safe to say, is downright uneasy, even eerie, worldwide, and of course, we’re all breathing that air, whether in fear or love, depending on our level of awareness.

We spent the first hour sitting in my living room, talking. Talking about what it’s going to take to feed the world during the coming difficult years of climate change and most likely, at least partial collapse of the systems that have maintained us unsustainably since the industrial revolution. Susan, Doug and I had read an article that I put up on my site the day before — do read it — and it alarmed us all. The difficulties we face, especially in growing enough staple crops (cereals, grains which require either huge labor or at least small machines) are formidable. Then there’s the lack of awareness, the entitlement attitude, the fact that old-time farming and “putting up” skills have just about gone extinct within one generation, and any romantic view of the future dissolves into fairy dust.

So, that was the context of the class that did take place! And we had fun. Nathan is a wonderful teacher, and Stephanie his bright, smiling, knowledgeable assistant.

Notice the giant sunflower plants behind Nathan. The entire garden is sprinkled with them this year, all volunteer (three plants were planted last year). We decided to just let them do what they will, and boy did they!

He did get a bit carried away by some subject, which I can no longer remember, but it was in response to someone’s question about why their garden isn’t doing so well this summer. I do remember him saying that whatever the problem is with your plants, the solution is usually to keep feeding the soil. That plants do better, and fend off pests, when they are living in a rich enough environment. When asked what kinds of amendments to put on the soil, he recommends human urine, diluted five or ten times, about once a week up until two weeks prior to harvest. Best to use what’s at hand, rather than buy more stuff. . .

Nathan noted, as part of an overall summer assessment that, while sunflowers are gorgeous, they are “heavy feeders,” taking a lot of nutrients from the soil. So. That’s the last time we’ll let them get so unruly, and we’ll make sure to put lots more compost in the soil near where they’ve been. We did remove a number of them during the workshop.

The big lesson of the day was how to deal with squash borers. A number of the squash plants have already died, from what looked to me like a kind of yucky squishiness at the very base of the plant. Last year, we also had squash borers, but they had entered a few inches up the stem in each case, so I didn’t recognize the same problem when I saw it. So much to learn in a garden. A zillion details, and all depending on close observation.

Here’s a plant with a squash borer problem, notice the yucky part, right at the base.

He cut this one open a few inches up, because the borers travel up (you can tell how far by whether or not the leaves are dead at that point), and he wanted to find them. The trick is to slit the hollow stem vertically without going through the other side. That way, the plant may still live after the borers have been removed. Someone told me last year that you needed to make sure you found two of the little buggers, because there were usually two, and if one remained, the problem would, too. Nathan said that there may actually be more than two . . . At any rate, here’s what one looks like, on the tip of his knife, a whitish slug, with a tiny, very black dot at the tip.

I had heard that if you then make a tin foil sleeve for the place where you slit it, the plant might be able to live on (and a couple of plants that I got borers out of last year did live with this technique). Nathan said it’s best to put the tin foil around each plant before the squash borers come, because they usually do, eventually.

Lesson: besides the number of critters that can munch on plants, there are also lots of different ways to deal with them. How to garden is not written in stone. But it is overwhelming for anyone who has no experience. For example, Doug, in the middle here,

who confessed to me as I was about to pick off dead leaves from a bed of chard plants for composting and live leaves for our lunch, that he felt completely overwhelmed, didn’t know what to do . . . As he stood there, looking stricken and lost, I invited him to kneel and join me; I showed him how to discern which leaves could be eaten, which were too far gone. Hint: lots of tiny insect-made holes are okay, rotting blackened areas are not.

I know exactly how he feels. I felt the same way not so long ago. In contrast, here’s two young ones, Ash and Jessica, who seem to come by gardening naturally.

Jessica has just returned from part of her summer in Puerto Rico, where she was on a wwoof program (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), staying with a young couple and their child, on an organic farm by the sea. So glad young people are becoming farmers. We’re going to need millions more as we relocalize industrial agriculture everywhere.

BTW: I am really glad to see these two Indiana University students in the garden, because they live (or, I should say, they lived, both having now moved to other digs) right across the street, and after all, this is supposed to be primarily a neighborhood garden, not just a teaching venue. They had joined our weekly workparties in the spring, and Jessica wants to continue through the remainder of the growing season.

After thoroughly working that old chard bed (which has fed a number of us for at least three months now), we planted greens in and around the plants that were still viable, punched bamboo stakes in the ground and hung string for a little pea garden, planted the peas and other beds we prepared into a rich compost/top soil concoction that my son Colin had mixed and laid out on the picnic table for us like a feast in the early morning.

By that time it was high noon, hot and humid. We gathered our bag of chard leaves and basil, came into my house, and stir fried chopped chard and onions with freshly made pesto (garlic and pine nuts and olive oil blended with basil), and served it with slices of the first gorgeous ripe tomatoes.

After an hour or so, everybody but Nathan and me went home. He and I spent another hour in the garden, planting, removing more sunflowers, and talking. A good day. Here’s the lordly okra plant, with blossom.

And here’s the pond, with fish, looking cool and refreshing, but, in reality, the water is quite warm.

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