Angela had to run off last night to take care of her granddaughter because her grandson had to go to the hospital. Angela will tell you what happened next week. Rest assured that little Jack is going to be fine.
I stayed behind to hold down the fort, and watch over our two fur-babies, “100-Mile-an-Hour” Moon, and our 100-pound behemoth we affectionately (and appropriately) named “TANK.” Never a dull moment around here, usually beginning around 5am when Moon alerts me that it’s “potty time.”
Anyway, I’ve been handed the responsibility of writing this week’s “Home Office.”
Firstly, we were blessed with yet another astounding rainbow over the valley this week as we sat on our porch watching a rain storm. Our view is amazing here on the mountain, and it is never the same thing from one day to the next.
I went dove hunting last weekend at Pigeon Mountain WMA with a friend from our church. It was my first time ever hunting on public land. I would estimate that there were around 50 hunters all in the field we were in. The WMA only has one dove field. Every time a dove flew over, it sounded like the Battle of Midway had broken out. We ended our hunt empty handed. We were in the middle of the field and it seems the only people taking any birds were the folks right on the edges, taking out doves as they were flying in from their nesting areas in the mountain forests. I can’t wait to see what deer season will look like there…
Summer’s heat is finally subsiding, thank you, Lord!! We are seeing more days in the high 70’s and low 80’s now, and our evenings on the porch now require either a sweater or some nice, comfy flannel to stave off the night chill.
The milder temperatures have also injected new life into our vegetable gardens, which is the real blessing out of all this.
As many of you recall, when we left the urban hell of Tampa/St Pete in Florida for the pristine beauty of mountain life in North Georgia, a big part of our plan was to grow our own food – to become more self-sufficient, and less dependent on the “supply chain.”
It’s been quite a learning experience as we’ve planted multiple types of vegetables, watching some flourish and some fail. We’ve both been somewhat overwhelmed by just how much there is to know and understand about each type of plant, and how to make it thrive.
Our very first challenge was how to farm on a slope. As soon as you step off of our carport, our back yard dips into something like an 11% downward grade, all the way to end of the property. I tackled this obstacle by building 9 raised beds in late winter. We eagerly awaited the official “last frost” day, which I think was some time in April. Then, we got busy planting all the seeds and seedlings that we’d planned out for each bed. Our evenings were full of giddy conversation about all the big, healthy carrots, beans, peas, beets, tomatoes, and squash we were going to harvest in late spring/ early summer. And, some of that played out. We did very well with beets, potatoes, yellow squash, okra, and some of our tomato plants.
Garden pests became an issue about midway through the season. Tiny little caterpillars decimated my collard greens. Japanese beetles started devouring any and every leaf they could land on. And, as our zucchini, yellow, and acorn squash plants began to wilt and turn yellow, I began noticing lots of little white bugs all hanging out in clusters on the undersides of the leaves. They were Squash Bug nymphs that suck the sap out of the leaves, and kill them off. We had started the season with a determination to grow everything organically – no pesticides or chemicals. But, once I realized what we were up against as far as sheer numbers of bugs, we decided that spraying was essential. Our main goal was to grow food, not to make a political or cultural statement.
Then, the heat kicked in. Full blazing sunlight and mid to upper 90 temperatures every day … and very little rain. The squash plants couldn’t take the additional stress. My bush bean plants were producing beans but the plants themselves weren’t flourishing well. I had two rows of scarlet runner bean plants that were as big as hedges, but produced no beans. Angie’s onions and garlic plants struggled. Beets seemed to simply stop growing. Our church’s community garden continued to flourish and bring forth pound after pound of beautiful veggies. We feel that God has his hand on that garden because of the good that it’s doing for the community, but we can’t help but suspect that some Miracle Gro has been introduced into the mix as well. We will not use that in our garden because, once it’s in your dirt, it’ll be there forever.
The only things that seemed to thrive in this daily furnace was our okra and our “bonus plants.”
“Bonus Plants.” That’s the term our neighbor taught us to describe vegetable plants that pop up in places that you didn’t plan them to. A tomato bush sprung up in the middle of Angela’s carrot bed – and then proceeded to take over the whole thing.
We have another bonus tomato plant that started growing out of our compost heap at the corner of our yard. These two tomato plants have given us far more tomatoes than any of the 8 plants that Angela carefully sowed in containers, and has lovingly cared for. (We fear that those may croak at any minute if we were to simply blow on them a little too hard.) The tomato plant in our compost heap is kept company by a large pumpkin vine that has bore us at least 15 nice, medium-sized pumpkins. Now, we also planted eight “Atlantic Giant” pumpkin seeds (they grow up to 1,400 lbs.) as part of a contest. The vines came up, began taking over a swath of about 50 square feet of our back yard, then unceremoniously died. We have some re-growth happening, but to be honest, whomever happens to harvest a tennis ball sized pumpkin out of one of those zombie plants will be declared the winner.
Sometime in early August, we decided to simply keep watering, but otherwise not try to do anything else to save what crops were there. Once the heat subsided, we would pull up whatever was too far gone, and re-plant. I wound up pulling all the zucchini, yellow squash, and acorn squash we had in beds. They were toast. The plants were huge, but the stems were collapsing and they simply were not producing any fruit. We also harvested the remainder of the carrots. Some were fat, and very short. Most of the others were pencil-thin. Angela kept complaining for months that, back in Maine, she could just throw carrot seeds on the ground, and grow grocery store quality carrots. I just kept saying, “Honey, we aren’t in Maine.” We surrendered the carrot bed to the bonus tomato bush, and it’s pretty much occupied the entire 4 X 8 bed. We can’t give these tomatoes away fast enough.
I re-planted zucchini, yellow, and acorn squash in their respective beds. In the beet bed, we had planted four strawberry plants that our neighbor gave us. I wasn’t aware that strawberry plants are runners – they stretch vines out that re-root wherever they touch soil. I harvested the last of my red and albino beets, and determined to let the strawberries take over.
As my bush beans died off, the scarlet runners suddenly came to life. I now have to pick beans almost every day just to keep up with the rate of growth. In that bed, I planted more bush beans and sugar-snap peas.
Okra is simply next to impossible to kill. All of our okra plants are around 8 – 10 feet tall and must be harvested every other day. Other than eating fried okra at restaurants, I’ve had no experience with the odd, jalapeno-shaped pods. They can get huge, up to around 8 or 9 inches long and over an inch wide. But it’s Southern tradition to pick them before they get that big. They are usually harvested when they are around 3 to 4 inches long. They are the most tender at that point. Bigger than that, and they tend to get kind of woody and fibrous.
One of Angela’s experimental plants is an Indian Snake Bean. Also known as a “Snake Gourd,” this plant sat in a big 10 gallon pot all summer without producing any gourds. Once the temperatures started dropping, Angela put some of these seeds in a 15-gallon pot. It grew very quickly, and out came a little thing that looked like a green bean off of one of the branches. A few weeks later, we have a 4 foot bean, and have had to place the pot on top of a couple of cinder blocks to keep the big bean from touching the ground. They are harvested when they are about 5 feet long and 1 1/2 inches wide.
Additionally, most of the other little container plants we’ve surrounded our greenhouse with are flourishing. I’m growing four sweet potato plants in large containers. (Stay tuned for harvest day footage of that project!) Angela is growing a couple of very interesting pepper plants. Additionally, we’ve got turnips, radishes, an avocado tree, and several “mystery plants” (seeds we planted…then forgot what they were. The identification tags we put in the dirt faded in the sun.)
So, we’ve learned that summer here in North Georgia can be just as brutal as what we had in Florida, and it is to be expected that the heat will kill off several of our spring crops. But, the fall brings new life to the homestead and it’s a time of re-planting and ramping up our harvesting before winter gets here.
Stay tuned for more updates on our farming exploits. Angela will be back next week.
- Writing about Home and Garden: Paying “Shelter” Markets By Kelly James-Enger
- Grow Your Writing: Eight Gardening Markets By Kelly Kyrik
- The Monster Hiding in Our Garden…
- “Peter” Peppers (ha ha ha) Are NOT a Gimmick!
- FUTURE FRIES!! YUM!!!
- What in the WORLD Happened to The Pot?!
Brian Whiddon is the Managing Editor of WritersWeekly.com and the Operations Manager at BookLocker.com. An Army vet and former police officer, Brian is the author of Blue Lives Matter: The Heart behind the Badge. He's an avid sailor, having lived and worked aboard his 36-foot sailboat, the “Floggin’ Molly” for 9 years after finding her abandoned in a boat yard and re-building her himself. Now, in northern Georgia, when not working on WritersWeekly and BookLocker, he divides his off-time between hiking, hunting, and farming.
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