Originally Posted on August 17, 2013
“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” ― Wendell Berry
Looking Forward to Autumn
Mid-August in the garden brings us fading evening light, rampant squash vines, sprawling tomato plants, drooping sunflower heads, and a feeling of being on the cusp of the time of transition. The chickens head in to roost a bit earlier each evening, and the time for evening, outside chores shortens ever so slightly by the day.
Now is the window for the last push for gardeners and farmers to finish getting many of their fall crops planted. Lettuce plants, carrots, broccoli, kale, greens, peas, and the like are going into garden beds.
Protect Your Garden from Harlequin Bugs
We recently met a gardener who had stopped growing tomatoes in his home garden because of the damage that stink bugs had done to his fruit in past years. The thought of not growing tomatoes made our gardener sad, for he loved his home-grown tomatoes. And truly, the lure of vine-ripe tomatoes is what draws so many people into gardening in the first place. A little questioning revealed that the insects his tomatoes were attracting were the ubiquitous harlequin bug.
Harlequin bugs are black with bright orange and red markings, and are often found feasting on members of the brassica family. We suggested that he plant a trap crop for the harlequin's with the hope that the insects would leave the tomatoes alone. Daikon radish is a favorite plant for a wide variety of purposes in the garden, and also attract harlequin bugs. We have some sprawling, flowering daikon plants in one of our tomato gardens, and the tomato fruit is unmolested by the harlequin bugs, but the daikon has a moderate population of them.
We also suggested that he grow some plants that will attract natural enemies of the harlequin bug. Plants such as lemon balm, and those in the umbellifera family, which attract parasitic wasps, which will parasitize eggs of harlequin bugs, and other stink bugs. He like the idea and vowed to try it next year. His mood brightened at the thought of once more having tomatoes in his garden.
Broadforks Replace Rototillers - A Quiet Way to Work the Soil
We find that our time spent in the garden is more pleasant when we can take the time to enjoy the day, listening to the birds, and breathe fresh air. With the Valley Oak Broadfork we need not deal with cans of gasoline, engine fumes, and wrestling a machine around the garden. The broadfork makes for a quiet way to work the soil.
The broadfork also has 12" tines, helping to loosen the soil much deeper than a rototiller could, while helping to maintain that ever-important soil structure. Our customers tell us the Valley Oak broadfork is an excellent garden bed preparation tool, and we think so too. We use all the Valley Oak tools in our own gardens.
Nutgrass Removal Tips
When I dug up my lawn and planted vegetables in my front yard, I didn't realize that a good third of my lawn was not grass at all, but rather nutgrass, (Cyperus esculentus) which is actually a sedge rather than a grass.
Nutgrass does go to seed, but it also spreads through producing long rhizomes and small tubers, which look like little nuts. When you cut it off with a hoe or a wheel hoe, the tubers and rhizomes remain in the ground, and will regrow. They spread into a thick carpet of nutgrass leaves that comes up again and again. Since I am not willing to use herbicides, I have been battling the nutgrass for a few years now, and the nutgrass has been winning. However, I think I have finally hit upon a method of getting the nutgrass out, tubers and all.
First I wheel hoed fairly deep. Here in northern California, now seems to be the right time. Timing is critical because now last year's tubers have shriveled and died, and the next crop of tubers are just now forming, so they aren't breaking off when I lift the tangles of nutgrass and shake off the dirt on the roots. I was using the 8" tall blade and cutting about 3" below grade. Then I turned around and do a second pass not quite as deep. This loosened the clumps of nutgrass so that they could be grabbed by both hands and sifted upwards together in sort of tangled bunches.
I dropped the nutgrass and a few other weeds growing with it, for instance purslane, into a wheelbarrow. When the wheelbarrow was full, I dumped out the weeds on a concrete slab that gets sun, and then spread them out with a bow rake, loosening more soil off the roots to hasten desiccation of the entire plant. Mature tubers are quite resistant to being dried out. They can sit there and wait for rain, like ticks waiting for a mammal to brush by (I hear ticks can hang onto a twig up to 8 years!).
After the nutgrass has dried out for a week or so of hot weather, I will cut some tubers to see if they are dead. When they are, I will compost them for a year. I think they may go in my compost tumbler with some chicken manure and enough water to reach the dampness of a wrung out sponge. I will turn it frequently and get a nice hot batch cooking. When I do a hot pile in my compost bins, the temperature gets up to 140 to 150 degrees Farenheit within a couple of days, so the nutgrass and chicken manure could be composted in a layered pile.
Knowing When Winter Squash is Ready to Harvest
With just a month, or so, left of summer, those rampant squash vines are likely hiding a bounty of mature squash under their leaves. We harvest winter squash when they've turned a deep color (butternuts will lose their green stripes), and when the skins are hard.
We cut our squash from the vines, leaving two or three inches of stem attached, as they'll store longer with stems on them. We do not recommend carrying the squash by the stem, for they could break off. If the stem does come off, we plan to use those squash earlier rather than storing them.
We store only our unblemished winter squash in a cool, dry place, and we prefer to not pile them up or have them touch each other, where space permits.
How to Use Winter Squash in the Kitchen
Butternut squash is one of our favorites. The fruits store well, and the flesh is flavorful when roasted, baked, steamed, or cooked in a nice black bean chili. We also like to use roasted butternut squash in fresh, handmade ravioli. We'll make a batch of fresh pasta dough (using our chicken's eggs) and fill the pockets of rolled dough with a mixture of roasted butternut squash, a little ricotta, some chopped sage leaves, a few grinds of black pepper, some salt, and a bit of fresh-ground nutmeg.
Making the fresh pasta is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, and use home-grown eggs, squash, and herbs. The fresh pasta makes a lovely dinner that tastes so fresh and delicious. Roasted butternut squash is also excellent for making pumpkin pie.