Fruitless: Unpollenated Gardens

Finally in the middle of July, our garden is visible above the ground, even from the road some 30 feet away. For the longest time, it seemed like an iceberg–7/8ths below the surface, invisible.

Now tomatoes near the tops of their wire cages, and the Delicata squash wrap their tendrils around the cattle-panel walls of the garden, climbing toward the highest wire as it they intend to stay.

Floppy yellow flowers open first from the base of the squash vines, and bring the first color other than green–soon to be joined, hopefully, by oranges, yellows and reds of several tomato varieties, should we escape late blight this year. It’s anybody’s guess.

The downside of all this profusion of growth is that so far, most of the squash plants are unfertilized. In the few flowers where pollinators have come and gone, the female bees have left the pollen-dust off their feet on the sticky female stigmas. (The males do more of the buzzing competing for the females, who do all the real work.)

Those visited flowers–like the one pictured–are “pregnant.” They swell at the base of the flower with a baby bump that will become the ultimate striped squash fruit we will gather in August. Other flowers, never visited, simply wither and die, beautiful but barren.

Years past, I have planted squash (the relatively insipid yellow crookneck) more to be able to hear the chorus of the bees than to eat. I learned not so many years ago that there is an insect specialist for this task–the squash bee–and we have had them in noisy profusion for a month or more in summers past.

This year there are, once again, no honeybees, and of great concern, not enough native squash bees to strike up a chorus of buzzes. This is an ominous sign to one gardener, and by extension, to all gardeners, and from there, to all who have the habit of eating.

Some would argue that our agricultural needs can be met without the non-native European honeybee as a pollinator. But we  cannot get by without ANY bees at all if the native bees are also lost. And this seems to be happening–at least here, in a place I would judge to be one of the more chemically unaltered spots in the eastern US.

The environmental service that native bees have offered for free may only be appreciated, sadly, after we come to realize we cannot do for ourselves what they have done for us.

Fragments From Floyd: All the Buzz

As Honey Bees Die Off, First Inventory of Wild Bees Is Under Way

Created By Storm: {Giving Back to your Garden: Mason Bee Keeping}

 

 

 

 

Garden Gate(d)

Don’t ask me how people do it with unprotected gardens in Floyd County. We’ve had to enclose ours in a stockade fence against the deer, and the place only lacks razor wire around the top or it would look like one of the human containment facilities the Agenda 21 folks are certain we’ll all live in one day.

The garden keeps me off the streets. I do a lot of sitting out there of late, having to water every living plant every other day or so. We are the inverse of last year’s inch of rain every three days. Now we lose that much water from the upper soil as quickly, and our grass crunches underfoot and the berries will be tough tasteless knots if we don’t get rain. Tomorrow. They say.

How does my garden grow, you ask? Well by all appearances, things are going as well as can be expected. In the race to the top, one heirloom bean plant is already above my head on the perimeter-wall cattle panels, and others close behind.

We have a few jalapeno-looking peppers of a variety called “Fooled You” because they are not hot, but I’m hoping will be more productive than California Wonder or other large bell peppers have been for us the past few years.

So far, knock on wood, no tomato diseases. I think we have about two dozen plants–Celebrity, Amish Paste, and some plum-shaped “cherry” tomatoes, plus a gaggle of volunteers of uncertain parentage that I left to grow in place where they dropped seed last year.

We have so little space in the garden (of about 25 x 40 feet) that there are only a dozen potato plants. You can see their lovely flowers in the image above (or larger, here at Flickr) and tell they are first cousins to tomatoes, also in the Nightshade family.

I regret to inform you that, this morning, with some mixed feelings, I zapped the growing paper globe  (grapefruit sized, yellow jackets I think) that was growing immediately overhead of the “thinking chair” in the garden shed, a place where I sit while waiting for the water barrel to fill up with creek water, or the wife to recompose herself after the latest housekeeping micromanagement infraction.

Although to have a stream of stinging insects fly down the back of my shirt might at times be a pleasant diversion. Kidding. Of course?

Vegetables: Not Without Water

This time of year, the day starts early and ends late. It starts and ends outdoors.

These are the HHH days, where heat, haze and humidity spawn afternoon showers–if we’re lucky. If we’re not, the garden takes an extra hour of attention at least every other day to keep it watered.

No less than for us humans, there is no vegetable life without water. it provides a water skeleton that supports the plant (or not: you’ll know when plants wilt they are dehydrated.) Plants use water like we use blood to get goodies in and badies out, to plump up fruits and make more sun-gathering leaf surface. The water footprint of our garden is huge!

The Water Footprint of Food

For these thousands of gallons needed in a summer of vegetable gardening, we generally have enough–or almost enough–rain. In dry years, we are fortunate to have the creek as a source, only fifty feet away from our very limited very fenced garden.

Caveat: the creek can dry up–like it did to the very bedrock–in 2002. Without the creek, it’s game over for the gardenr. This season has started out dry and I’m concerned the creek will last until the garden has produced.

Our small rectangle is confined to the bit of level land locked between the county road, the hillside, the parking spot and the septic field. That doesn’t leave us much garden, but it seems big enough when everything has to be watered by hand.

Ann, never one to shun avoidable hard work or find any merit in efficiency, would fetch water, bucket at a time, from the creek. Brawny as she is, you can imagine how many gallons she carries per load.  A full watering takes at least 30 gallons. That’s a lot of fetching.

I, OTOH, will generally find a way to avoid wasting  time and effort, so years ago, I set up this little pump system. The short green length of garden hose is my supply. It draws water from a deep-enough pool created by a temporary dam of rocks across Goose Creek.

The little pump and lawn-and-garden battery do the work. A battery charge will pull a hundred gallons or more. The mason jar is used to prime the system by pouring water down the intake before connecting the pump clips to the battery. The bucket covers it all to keep it dry. Not exactly rocket science.

What I have not done but have discussed with myself is finding a larger reservoir for higher-capacity storage than the filled 35 gallon garbage can that sits on the level of the garden. I’m just not sure how HIGH my little pump will lift. A 300 gallon farm tank up on the hill would gravity-feed a soaker hose system.

Or maybe we’ll get rain.

Frozen Peas: Thousands Die Young

I have been feeling the pain these past few well-below-freezing April mornings knowing what our local vegetable farmers are suffering at the hand of winter that won’t give it up.

Thousands of tender sets and sprouts in long rows, the results of hours of back-bending work and tedium, lay limp and lifeless in the cold soil this morning–AGAIN.

Native plants have evolved in place and are more-or-less adapted to late frosts and freezes. Our food crops, OTOH, are bred for color or firmness of fruit or shipping tolerance or shelf life and their genes are more likely tropical by history. They don’t do winter.

IMG_1236troutLily300So this just to say that the native trout lilies are abundant and holding up well this very cool spring, and will be just fine as a species, even if a few get zapped. Their emergence and bloom range is wide. Riverstone’s peas all emerge at once, at get zapped by a freak freeze all on the same dark still morning.

Our farming practices are in many ways “un-natural” forcing upon the soil and seed a human mandate not programmed into the ordered being of the wild thing; we are resentful of events that are inconvenient truths and facts of life on and in the ground. Fortunes are lost in the gamble, yet we must eat and farmers must take those risks–for us, and for their livelihood. It is not an easy life.

The other reason to add this post this morning (even though I told myself I’d have too much to do otherwise and would go post-less) is that WordPress 3.9 is fresh out this morning, and I just had to try the drag and drop feature that will so streamline the workflow. So I give you a bonus image of our early blooming lily–from years past.

We have yet to see the first bloom. The margins of the Blue Ridge Parkway are thick with Trout Lily (or Yellow Dog Tooth Violet or Adder’s Tongue) in places where the Skunk Cabbage is well up and going strong. Images of that soon to come.

BTW, just learned Trout Lily LEAVES are edible, will have to explore that menu item! The edible bulbs are way too hard to dig up, and harm the population; a few leaves, not so much.

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Future for Maples: Not So Sweet

We are late to the late winter tradition of tapping maples for sap and then syrup. This is only our second season, after learning that you don’t have to have a sugar maples to get sweet returns for your efforts.

This is our yield from this year’s few days of collecting sap (up to 2 gallons a day) while the days were still cool enough to cook it up on the wood stove.

We make a little syrup for a couple of pancake suppers later on in the year. Many people make syrup for a living, or to supplement farm income, especially in the New England states.

If current trends continue, sugaring in the bush may become just a bedtime story of long ago. Forests of the north are not having such a sweet time of it lately.

Maple sap is running significantly earlier than it did in your father’s younger years. In fact, the range of temps that maples prefer may send the genus Acer far up into Canada as Vermont’s climate is becoming more like Virginia’s.

Add to that the north-moving insect pests, the increased likelihood of severe storms and drought, and the acidification of the soil—and there may be hard times ahead for many forestry-related industries, not to mention the losses of the ecological services that millions of acres of formerly-healthy trees have provided to humanity in generations past.

As I typed that last line, I looked out to see a sapsucker racketing its way up the maple. Here’s another movement of nature to come: home ranges of the familiar species—at least of those that can made the trip—will be moving north or higher in elevation. For the salamanders who need it wetter and cooler, they will just have to take what comes and live or die in place.