Monday, May 25, 2015

The jury is still out

El B has three sisters
Ingemar asks:
What are your thoughts on the Three Sisters?
For those unfamiliar with the reference, Three Sisters Agriculture is the practice of planting corn, beans, and squash together. The corn grows up, the beans climb the corn while fixing nitrogen in the soil for the corn, the squash spreads over the ground and smothers the weeds.  This is actually a very old method of planting, practiced by a number of New World cultures.  Some peoples added sunflowers, giving Four Sisters, while others buried a fish beneath the corn, but the idea is the same: the plants each provide something for the others.

When I began experimenting heavily with companion planting this was one configuration I passed over, mostly because I'm not fond of corn in the garden and I don't generally eat squash.  We tried it in one 4'x10' bed this year because a) while the lovely and gracious Rogue is fond of corn, she is not fond of weeding, and b) I can always give the squash to the old ladies at church.  Though just in case something bad happened* I planted green beans in another bed as well.  I also used three very different kinds of squash** to see if one performed better than the others.

Pictured above is the experiment thus far.  I waited until the corn was 6" high before planting the companions and they are just now coming up.  Because the ground is not yet covered, I have a bit of weeding to do, including a bunch of little maple seedlings, but it's nothing too troublesome as the good plants are all organized into obvious groups at present. Based on the speed of my pumpkins' growth, I estimate that within 3 weeks this whole bed will be covered by squash leaves.

So with that as background, my thoughts: I am inclined to favor any practice that both sounds good in theory and has lasted a long time.  I'm also confident that I'll be able to find a way to make squash edible, at least by someone. Still, I can boast no actual experience until the harvest comes in, and am therefore loth to recommend any more than that you try it.

* See "Potatoes in a barrel."
** Zucchini, acorn, and an oblong, orange type whose name escapes me. Pretty sure I won't get any true seeds from that arrangement. No loss.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Disaster strikes!

This one may be a lost cause.
There is trouble with the trees:
It sounds as though your pear tree has fire blight, a bacterial disease that can infect trees during bloom or during the growing season. It's more severe during warm, wet weather. Symptoms include brown or black leaves that cling on the tree. The tips of branches often curl into a shepherd's crook. In severe cases, the entire tree may be killed...
I really thought it was a late frost that was causing some leaves on a pear tree or three to blacken and shrivel.  But after a quick trip through the orchard this morning and a little research, I'm pretty sure the truth is far worse.  The rainy weather and my lack of pruning last winter has created the perfect environment for an outbreak of fire blight, a bacteria that is all but fatal to whatever fruit trees it touches.

My trees have an odd case, as other than the one pictured, which is brown top to bottom, every tree seems to have but a bad branch here and another there. So it's all over the place, but I probably won't lose too many whole trees.  I'm gonna have a hell of a burn party this winter, however.

Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do about it right now - lopping trees that are in the midst of their spring growth spurt is the best way to spread it around.  Instead, later this summer and over winter I'll need to:

1) Remove and burn all damaged branches in big, big chunks.
2) Wherever cankers (bark broken by the infection) appear, scrape it down to bare wood or take the branch out.
3) Thin the orchard pretty severely.  When I planted these pears, I had no idea how big and full they would really grow. A twenty-foot spread is just a number in a book when you're planting saplings. Now it's time to do the serious work of keeping them away from each other.  I'm gonna need a bigger ladder.

 I'm not sure how the pear harvest is going to be this year - the trees don't seem to be setting fruit in anywhere near the quantities of the past 2 years*.  But that's why we strive to learn these lessons while we can still buy pears in #10 cans at WalMart.

* I am thankful that the peach harvest looks to be off the charts. Plus we are down to the last three quarts of 2013 pears, meaning we have not started to eat last year's harvest yet.

Friday, May 22, 2015

So far, so good

That's one use for old street brick.
I'm surprisingly pleased thus far with the new and improved cuke ladder. While there are no actual cukes as of yet, hope springs eternal*.  Because the last 3 weeks have been 2 days of rain followed by a few days of sun followed again by rain**, everything has taken off, especially the cukes, radishes, beets, nasturtiums, marigolds, dill, tarragon, and whatever else I planted in this bed.  Weeds are there, but minimal, and I expect they'll be manageable in part because of the sheer amount of stuff I've planted here. But that all happened last year as well.

What's different with this cuke bed is that these cukes seem to like the idea of a ladder.  Unlike the prior version, in which the plants had to navigate some rather small holes in the fencing, this one just allows them to climb straight up. Which they are doing with alacrity.  I've taken the liberty of attaching the tops to the fence with some loose plastic clamps I found on ebay, but they seem to be anchoring themselves just fine.

I'm not sure how I'm going to keep them from smothering everything underneath without trimming off their leaves for a couple feet. Nor have I any inclination to do so. With this bed I'm not looking for nasturtium production, I can move the tarragon, and the radishes and beets, well, I've got more elsewhere. So grow, little gherkins, grow.  And to pickles with the lot of you!

* I have this great idea for growing potatoes in a 55-gallon barrel...
** Tomorrow, being Saturday, is a day of rain.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wake me up when September ends, Part Deux

Dude, do you even science?
So anyway, I'm watching the conspiracy theorist* agitation over September of this year with growing amusement. Because not only has Isaac Newton been added to the chorus of voices that say something really, really bad is coming in September, but the September prophecies are now starting to contradict Science.

For example, the above screenshot is taken from about the 11 minute mark of a video that assures us that a Confirmed-2.5 Mile Wide Comet (is) Headed Toward Earth, (complete) With Chilling Hellish Mystery Sounds. And Hellish Mystery Sounds are not to be despised.

But this is a magical comet in that
1) we only know within a 2-week period when it will hit us, but
2) we know exactly where it will hit: 200 mi. off of Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean

And we
1) are seeing Earth changes because of its gravitational pull**
2) even though it's only 2.5 miles wide and is still squillions of miles away from us.

In other words, it's bullshit.

But that's really not what's of interest to me.  I never bothered following the apocalyptic ravings of Y2K.  Since I was a Y2K project manager, I understood the risks and urged people to make reasonable preparations in case we didn't finish our work in time.***  And I never bothered with 2012 prophecies, mostly because I don't give a flying freak about the Mayans****. 

But I'm gonna watch September 2015. Not because I think anything will happen therein, but because I'm really interested in what people will do when nothing happens. With the Pope coming and a blood moon and a meteor and Climate Chaos and everything ill prophesied, there's not going to be any doubt as to whether they were right or wrong, and if they are wrong, I wonder what they'll do.

That said, America's got a shitstorm a-brewin', and September is as good a month as any for it to arrive.

* A conspiracy theorist is a person who accuses the government of malfeasance before events occur.  An historian is a person who does so afterwards. 
** While we all know that gravitation is inversely proportional to distance, I'm gonna let Huck run the actual numbers, because he's qualified and I've been drinking.
*** FWIW, my prepping fanaticism does not arise from hypotheticals or even Y2K but from a freak KC snowstorm in late 1998 that caught me unawares and emasculated me for a week until the electricity came back on. Never again.
**** I haven't even watched that movie where global warming causes global cooling and Lane Meyers flies a plane, I guess. Mostly because I don't watch movies.