Bringing in the Last

Yesterday afternoon, I dumped all the potted annual herbs into the wheelbarrow and brought in all the tender houseplants from the back deck.

Thunder was grumbling, and days of rain and potentially even a little snow are in the forecast. I didn’t want to haul in frigid, heavy, sopping wet pots at the last moment. So, amid rumbling and flashing and the first spatter of drops, the season of patio plants ended abruptly.

A little later, a bolt of lightning splintered a tree by the kitchen, nearly causing me to spill boiling tea-water on my foot. Then wind forced open the mudroom door, hail flew in with a clatter, and THEN the weather radio sounded a warning.

There is no “fall garden” this year other than what’s out in the older beds already, mature, planted in spring. Some of the newly-built raised beds are filled with a combination of “black dirt” (which is farm field soil, stripped off so that excavators can get to the gravel underneath) and barn cleanings–a mix of straw bedding and goat manure. I combine the two because black dirt from an industrially-farmed field, while gorgeous-looking to those who garden in less-than-ideal soil, is nevertheless a dead medium. There aren’t any worms, no organic matter. When it’s dry, it blows like the Dirty Thirties; when it’s wet, it pools and runs to gullies.

DSC05815I see whole big fields of it in places–fall cultivated bare to allow for earlier spring planting, and I wonder how much soil that farmer will lose before they wise up to what their grandparents learned the hard way.

A couple of the newly-filled raised beds are serving as winter nurseries to perennials I dug from the yard in Clinton–I don’t want to lose what I worked on if the house should sell after the ground freezes, and I don’t want to ask for stipulations about digging plants in the spring. A couple beds have asparagus crowns dug last weekend from a plot now outside the new garden boundaries. Some of the new beds still stand empty, and I guess they might stay that way till spring.

I had the idea I’d get all the beds filled and the newly-defined garden fenced this fall, but the list of what can be accomplished before freeze up is shortening along with the days. I also remember thinking I’d get a plot tilled and the small high tunnel erected down on the south lawn. The frame and plastic for that is still in the shop in town.

DSC06017Yesterday evening, casting around for dinner ideas, I decided to make lasagna–not because I was particularly in the mood for it (it was excellent!), but because I could combine the making of it with processing the rest of the ripe tomatoes in the house. I also had some soft goat cheese in the fridge from a local farm tour last week, and that’s not something you let go to waste.

Now, with the weather tending toward chill and damp, and the fact that some animal (probably a squirrel) is competing with me for the last of my lovely heirloom tomatoes, I am planning to cut them down and bring a wheelbarrow-full to the chickens. If critters are going to eat the last few, I ought to get something in return (theoretically speaking, since my hens have not yet begun to lay eggs).

DSC05983I don’t think I’ve ever pulled healthy tomato plants before a frost, but their production is waning, and I’d like to bare those beds and get compost worked in sooner rather than later. Another first: two days ago I pulled all the sweet pepper plants but two–again, waning production and a desire to beef up the soil organic matter before winter closes in.

Yes, and to make room for the garlic that still needs planting, though I have it on good authority that with a power drill and ice auger, it’s possible to plant it in December, even.

It’s a bit of a relief to be bringing in the last–to know that the constant inflow of baskets and boxes and buckets of produce is coming to an end, and what we’ve got is it until the first greens of spring. Sure, there’ll be a few more trips to the farmers market for winter squash and onions, to the orchard for apples. We’ve got currants and elderberries in the freezer that are destined for jam, jelly, and syrup, the canning of which will warm the house in the chilly damp weeks ahead.

But it seems clear from the forecast, and from the geese gathering by hundreds in the sloughs, that the Time of Too Much Eggplant is coming to a close, and the stored-up Feast of Fall is about to begin.


Extension Food Entrepreneur Workshops

Seats still available for Feb. 22, 25, and 28 Extension home-food entrepreneur

BROOKINGS, S.D. - Entrepreneurs who seek the latest information on preparing and
marketing foods they make at home can get insight at three workshops set for Feb.
22, Feb. 25, and Feb. 28.

The South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service will host each workshop. Each will
take place from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and they will be held in Montrose on Feb. 22; in
Hot Springs on Feb. 25; and in Sisseton on Feb. 28. Each workshop costs $15 and the
fee includes materials and lunch.

To take part, call the Extension office in each workshop location's county:

 *   Montrose, McCook County Extension office at 605-425-2342.
 *   Hot Springs, Fall River County Extension office at 605-745-5133.
 *   Sisseton, Roberts County Extension office at 605-698-7627.

The South Dakota Horizons project is sponsoring scholarships for participants who
want to take part but cannot afford the fee. Ask about the scholarship opportunity
when you register.

The workshops are designed for people who plan to sell foods that they have made at
home at local or regional farmers markets in South Dakota. Producers of these foods
must comply with a new South Dakota food-safety law that sets requirements for baked
goods and foods canned or processed in the home. In addition, the workshops will
help home-food producers learn marketing skills that can help them succeed in these
types of business ventures.

Among the speakers is Extension Food Safety Specialist Joan Hegerfeld-Baker. She
said the workshops are a place where  sellers can address any questions they have
about following the rules and regulations related to home-processed food sales.

"This workshop will provide critical food-safety information that producers need to
know beforethey take their products to farmers markets," Hegerfeld-Baker said.
"Extension staff at the workshops can answer their questions and be there to help
themwork through the details. We will provide the information and resources that
anyone canning, baking, or producing food in their home needs in order to meet state

Beyond learning the important aspects of South Dakota food safety standards,
participants will gain sharp insight on market feasibility, promotion, and sales.
Kari Fruechte, Extension Community Development Associate, said that newcomers to
home food preparation and sales can develop connections that can help their
home-businesses succeed.

"These workshops pack in lots of information for entrepreneurs hoping to take their
food products from their home or farm to the marketplace where they can earn extra
income," Fruechte said. "Beyond the rules and regulations, we'll take an in-depth
look at the options of available markets and the ways to best promote their

In addition to Hegerfeld-Baker and Fruechte, Extension Horticulture Specialist Rhoda
Burrows, Extension Leadership and Community Development Specialist Karla Trautman,
and Extension Community Development Educator Darah Melroe will present information
at the events.

Call Hegerfeld-Baker with other questions or to suggest other sites in South Dakota
where this sort of workshop would be beneficial at 605-688-6233.

Local Food Meeting in Vermillion Tonight!

From the press release:

Value Added Agriculture Development Center and Buy Fresh Buy Local are conducting a series of meetings to evaluate the potential for local food distribution. The goal is to establish systems to aggregate, process, package and distribute local foods in South Dakota.

All consumers, producers, famers, businesses, schools and institutions interested in expanding the availability of local foods are invited to attend.

Vermillion’s meeting is tonight, December 13, 2010, 8:00 pm at the Vermillion Public Library, 18 Church Street.

And since I serendipitously happen to be in town on other business, I hope to see you there!

Seeds: Use 'em or Lose 'em

I went through all my old seed packs today–everything from before 2009, and all that seed is going in the compost.

As wet as it has been this year, and as damp as it’s been in my basement, I just don’t trust the germination on anything older than that.  I’ve already had a few problems with low germination this year, and I don’t want to continue that trend into next year.

I do keep seeds in sealed tin boxes with several silica gel packs in each, and I refresh (dry in the oven) the packs every six months or so, but this spring, I pulled out some seed packs, and they felt dampish.

That’s a bad sign.  Cool and dry is the best situation for seeds.  Damp–no matter what the temperature–is bad news.

Considering that I typically have a couple hundred dollars’ worth of seed at any given time (purchased and saved), and I also work on developing a few strains of my own, I can’t afford to have it stored in less-than-favorable conditions.

So, I spent about that much on a 50-pint dehumidifier for my basement, which has been running pretty much non-stop (except for when the bucket’s full) ever since.  It is noticeably drier in the basement, but it was obviously pretty darn damp before because the thing’s set on 50% humidity, and it hasn’t reached that shut-off point.

Ideally, it should be even drier than that–Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed recommends that the total of the combined relative humidity and temperature (in Fahrenheit) should not exceed 100, and I know it’s above 50 degrees in my basement.

If we continue to have damp conditions here, even in the “dry season” of summer (and as I type this, it has started raining again), I will likely start drying down the seeds in bulk silica gel beads and storing them in airtight glass in the big basement freezer, as recommended in Seed to Seed.

Otherwise, I’m going to make a better attempt to grow out what I’m saving and purchasing by the year after I’ve collected or received it, just to be safe.  Anything I can’t use in that second year can be donated to make sure it gets used.

In my paring down, I found a few seeds that were collected as long ago as 2003 (only a couple–some burr oak acorns and prickly poppy seed from Crazy Horse Canyon and the Sand Hills), and some saved seed from 2005 as well.

When I save tomato seed, I tend to save a fairly large quantity of each variety, so quite a few older packs of that got composted.  I had known that a number of varieties were going to need renewing/saving this year, but I will focus first on the ones that might be harder to find in seed catalogs and make use of the freezer for back-up supplies.

Well, I don’t hear the dehumidifier running, so I’d better go check the bucket again.

Persistent Herbicides Lead to Home Garden Troubles

I got a call last week from a gardener whom I really respect.

He is a good steward of the soil and of natural resources, and he shares his knowledge with the community at large–teaching other people how to grow food, how to compost effectively, and about the life of the soil.  When he does research, he really “goes to Earth”–rooting out information and following leads like a terrier after a rodent.

My friend was distressed because he was seeing some problems in his gardens that he had never seen before–starting earlier this spring with the sudden death of tomato plants he started from seed, and continuing with curled, deformed, and mottled leaves on a variety of different crops during this growing season.

Mottling on Bean Leaves

In his research on the problems he was experiencing, he learned about a class of herbicides that has come into broad use for grass pasture because of their effectiveness against Canada thistle (a pernicious weed I am all too familiar with myself).

These herbicides, many of them called aminopyralids, persist in pastures grown for grazing and hay production, and also in the digestive tracts of animals fed grass hay from these pastures.

There is an excellent article (pdf!) by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension on these herbicides that discusses their persistence and the need to communicate with hay buyers and gardeners about their use.

In my friend’s case, discovering a possible source of the problem led him on a path from his damaged crops, to the manure he used, to his friend’s horses, to the pasture owner who sold the hay, to the contractor hired to spray those fields.

Curled and Malformed Leaves on Squash Plants

When the manure from animals fed grass hay from pastures sprayed with these types of herbicides is spread in vegetable gardens, the very kinds of problems my friend is experiencing can result–whether or not that manure was composted before use.  Damage can also result from using contaminated hay, straw, or grass clippings.

One of the most-read articles on my blog is one on Leaf Roll and Curl on Tomatoes and Potatoes.  That post discussed moisture stress issues, and how it can cause leaves of these plants to curl up.

Leaf Curl on Volunteer Tomato

After having seen my friend’s garden, I began to wonder if those searching for a reason for problems in their gardens might be experiencing something quite different–residual effects of herbicides used on the compost, grass, and/or hay they’ve used as mulch of fertilizer in their gardens.

After doing some of my own research, I have learned from County Extension agents that some of the same persistent herbicides are now being marketed toward homeowners for lawn care.  Your county weed board may also be spraying these chemicals on ditch hay–check the source of any compost, manure, hay, grass, or straw you bring into your garden or onto your farm!

The Garden Organic site has more information on this topic and lists of the market names of herbicides, as well as what to do if you suspect that your garden has been contaminated with these chemicals.

In addition, my friend is seeking additional input in his research on aminopyralids, and asked me to share the following statement:

“Dean Spader believes Dow’s ForeFront with its aminopyralid herbicide was the main cause that completely destroyed his young heirloom tomato plants.  If you wish to contact him for more information, you can call him at 605-624-6831.

In case you’re wondering, Dow does not deny that its herbicides have caused problems in gardens and on allotments (in the U.K. at least).  The lesson here is to protect yourself and your (and your neighbor’s) food supply and do your homework on any inputs you use in your garden, on your lawn, and on your farm and fields.