Bountiful harvests, battling viruses, and farmers market finds

I feel like it's been forever since I've written and yet it was only earlier last week that I wrote!  So much has happened since the last time I wrote so, this is one of those moments when I take a huge sigh and try to figure out where to begin.
In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the King said to the White Rabbit "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop".
Good Advice.
So first, our garden has stepped up production as of lately and we're eating from it non stop.  My parents recently visited and we made eggplant parmesan from eggplants out back which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. 
We're easily getting medium to large sized bowlfuls of tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants and squash every week now.  Coupled with the amount we get from our weekly CSA share at Brad's Produce, and well, it's a lot of food.

The tomatoes have been turned into sauces, diced tomatoes, salsas, dried tomatoes, and fireballs.  The corn has been frozen each week, both as cut corn and corn on the cob.
Fireballs! YUM!
The peaches, watermelons, and cantaloupes are eaten up by my son as an afternoon snack with Edward and I getting a small bowl to bring to work to snack on as well.  We're an equal opportunity family here.  That means when we have too much cantaloupe and watermelon we have to all equally share in the consumption of it.
Now, while we've had our successes so far this year.  We also, sadly enough, lost yet another plant.
Our lemon cucumber is now gone, lost to Mosaic Virus.
The other cucumbers look like they are not far behind as they too have caught the virus.  Either we passed it to them when harvesting cucumbers or the beetles did, at this point it matters little to me how it was passed because the damage is done. 
Once again, we've come up against something we never knew about.  That is something that is just amazing and frustrating to me about gardening and growing like we do.  Each year we encounter a new pest, a new disease, a new virus that takes down one of our plants.  There is so much to learn so I can imagine how a new gardener, planting a lone tomato plant or a cucumber plant might feel daunted when they don't succeed.  The learning curve can be steep.  I started in my early twenties with basic herbs in containers, most of the time on balconies, grown for use every so often in cooking.  In fact many times I grew the herb and I did not even know how to use the herb in cooking.  I just thought it smelled good, made me feel good and that was that. 

I think back to the very beginning, when we first moved into this house and how much we have learned in just a few short years.  
We've worked with lousy soil conditions, flooding problems, stink bugs, hornworms, aphids, cabbageworms, slugs, cercospora, black cutworms, cucumber beetles and Cucumber Mosaic virus and yet there is still more to tackle.  More challenges to face.

A few lessons I've learned this season. 

Our first okra flower of the season
  1. Plant the okra earlier.  Yes it does fine when direct sowed but when the garlic hogs the raised bed til almost July the okra barely gets any time to do it's thing and plant more okra.  Four plants per bed is not enough.  We should really think about planting onions as companions in these beds as they get lots of sun there.  Next year plant the okra in the flats we've saved (my idea. Little pots or plastic cups get expensive after a while) in early June.  That way it's ready to go in the ground by July. 
  2.  If we see cucumber beetles first and foremost, pick them off the plant, stomp them until they are fully and completely DEAD.  No NOT SHOW MERCY. Do NOT just wave them away and expect them to stay away.  They won't.  Then spray plants with water and dust with diatomaceous earth.  Also, recently I learned from a representative from the University of Maryland Agriculture department that lime sprinkled on the plants does the trick as well as the spotted cucumber beetles don't like the taste. 
  3. Always, always empty the soil from the large pots we use for tomatoes at the end of the growing season.  Otherwise the tomato plants barely produce.  Refill with new, more fertile soil mixed heavily with vermicompost.
  4. Forget trying to put almost anything in the front yard soil.  Everything dies or almost everything does.  The marigolds we planted have actually SHRUNK before our eyes until they have browned up and died.  The tomatoes that started accidentally from seed from our compost have actually survived but barely.  Same goes for whatever squash type of plant that made it out there. I've told Edward that I have tested this soil and it's mid range on the acidic to alkaline levels, it's low in potash, low in nitrogen, and very low in organic material.  It would take us at least another two years of working on this soil out front to get it up to the point where we would be able to grow plants out there and actually see them produce more than a tomato or two.  The only plants that seem to be somewhat happy are the flat leaf parsley and the yarrow.  Most of the others are making it but barely. Even the raspberry bushes and the blackberry bushes are dying.  They produced some foliage, grew a bit but now they have almost completely died off. One at a time. My next door neighbor has tried repeatedly to get grass to grow in her front yard with no success as well.  The battles of the front are not worth it at this point as we only have one full growing season left before we move either due to retirement from the military or a permanent change of station within the military.  Either way our time is almost done at this house.  I hope that the next occupants are gardeners as well as they will have nice fertile soil to work with.

I'm sure I'll add more items to my list to remember but for now that is it.

Now onto that Vermicompost tea vs Miracle Gro treatment for the two tomato plants.
Miracle Gro tomatoes

Vermicompost/Worm Tea

I've been watching them closely and while the tomato treated with worm tea has produced a lot more tomatoes the leaves are shrunken and look unhealthy.  Meanwhile the Miracle Gro tomato's leaves have become a healthy green color, the plant has filled out and I noticed last night it is FINALLY flowering. 
Maybe finally we'll see what type of plant this one is!  It has YET to produce a single tomato. 
So in this case, I have to say that Miracle Gro fertilizer won. 
Now, I do have to add one bit to that though.  For the worm tea we applied this only twice.  The Miracle Gro tomato got twice the applications of that so this experiment is not exactly even. 
Still though, in the end I can suggest to go out and buy yourself some miracle gro, add it to your tomatoes.  And then use your worm tea as back up.

One last bit today.  The September challenge is coming up.  You know the eating locally and only spending $30 every other week at the local grocery store?
Edward and I have been discussing this one a lot.  How are we going to make this work? Will we succeed?  Are we disciplined enough to do this?  Can we actually do it and not feel like we're totally deprived? 
This past weekend we visited the farmers market at Bel Air to get a better idea of what we would be buying and who we would be buying from come the 1st of September. 
We arrived at around 9:00 am on Saturday morning.  Luckily enough we had a front go through the night before which left us with nice Autumn like temperatures, yet the sun was shining brightly.  The perfect crisp morning to browse, taste samples and maybe make a few friends. 
The farmers market at Bel Air is not overly large but has a nice enough array of different vendors so we should be able to find anything and everything we might need while keeping our grocery store stops down to a minimum. 
Among the many vendors there we found Kilby Cream which is the processor for Brooms Bloom's milk.  As luck would have it we discovered that we will save .70 on each 1/2 gallon of milk we buy by buying directly from them.  Right now we spend $3.70 on a half gallon of whole milk for my son.  That'll reduce the price down to $3.00 instead. 
Another interesting vendor I came across was KCC Natural Farms.  Right now we get our eggs from our CSA at Brads Produce so we don't need fresh chicken eggs but I could not help but buy some of their fresh quail eggs. 
Quails Eggs
The cost is a bit much at $5.00 but it was something I've never tried before so, I picked up a dozen. These are so tiny, so cute and the taste is amazing.  They are most definitely sweeter than chicken eggs and the yolk is more buttery, almost creamy. 
Will I buy more later?  Most likely not but I don't regret buying them. 

Poached chicken egg on a bed of fresh tomatoes and basil topped with a savory smoked mozzarella cheese sauce.  All served on Sauerkraut Rye bought at The Breadery at the Bel Air Farmers Market
I noticed Brad's Produce was there, and had my parents not been there visiting, I probably would have bought a box of their seconds tomatoes to be thriftily turned into yet more diced tomatoes later. 
In case you never knew, most farms will sell "seconds" of much of their produce.  This is produce that is not as fresh, slightly bruised, damaged or what not.  It usually is sold in larger boxes at a big discount.  If your intent is to make sauce, salsa or just diced, then this is the cheapest way to go if your garden is not producing quite enough.  
Just remember to ask your farmer if he or she offers this!  You never know if your local farmer is offering any specials or deals, all you have to do is ask.
Check out Local and you may be able to find local farmers in your area that are willing to work with you.  You never know until you ask!

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