Archive for October, 2011

Someone once said the difference between gardening and agriculture is that in  agriculture, you have to make a profit.

My grandparents were in agriculture. I am a gardener.

For gardeners, life sometimes gets in the way of that bushel basket of beautiful fresh-grown food.

Indeed, that’s how it’s been around here the past two weeks, as I’ve struggled to keep on top of  a 750-student piano, voice and music festival I ran for my music teachers’ group. Watching the garden and getting it ready for fall were the least of my concerns.

But now the festival is over (it went well, in case you’re curious) and there’s time to look around. Mike took up most of the slack, digging the sweet potatoes and tearing up the squash vines. I had just enough time to get the last green tomatoes and peppers out before the first expected frost.

It was 32 when we woke up this morning. Time for the garden to enter the sleepy phase.

I say sleepy because there’s still quite a lot happening. Tomatoes and basil are done, judging by how the leaves looked this morning. But the brave little kale that has been struggling against bugs and dry weather can outlast a mild frost. There still may be hope for baked kale chips yet. And of course it will be planting time in a couple of weeks for garlic, which stays in the ground all winter.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll tear out the old plants, tomato stakes and cages. We’ll get some aged manure and work it into the ground and we’ll plant the garlic. And then we’ll tear out the rabbit fence and that will be it. The garden will be at rest, and we’ll retire to our books and catalogs and dream of a better year in 2012.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the last growing season days:

Why oh why couldn't this have happened a month ago?


The darker sweet potatoes are Georgia Jet, which I bought to replace some Centennials that didn't survive transplanting. If they taste good, maybe we'll try this variety again next year.


We pulled in one big and three small but beautiful heads of cauliflower--that we planted in April! It was like a practical joke. Variety: Amazing.


And lastly, a reader wrote in recently with a question about Listeria and cantaloupes. She wanted to know whether it’s safe to compost cantaloupe rinds.

We weren’t able to find a really good answer to this. If your compost pile is in the sun and you check with a thermometer that the core gets to 140 degrees F, that is enough to kill most of the diseases and viruses, but we did not find any specific advice on Listeria.

However, many people (like us) have compost piles that don’t get enough sun to reach that temperature. If that’s your compost pile, I’d keep cantaloupe rinds out of there, at least for the time being.

Anyone else out there have some expertise on this?

Posted by: Roxie


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It’s tempting to blame Big Food and poor government oversight on the waves of disease and death caused by contaminated food.

Case in point: Listeria-tainted cantaloupes from a farm in Colorado. Eighty-four illnesses, 17 deaths, 19 states. So far. An article from the Associated Press today says that modern agribusiness practices make it easier for huge farming operations to accidentally infect thousands of people across the country. Those same practices also make it trickier to trace the distribution route and warn people.

So hooray for our local food and  home gardens. We’re all safe, right?

That would be an assumption you could make. But you would be wrong. No one knows exactly how the Listeria made its way onto those cantaloupes. The bacteria is found pretty much everywhere in nature–soil, water, sewage, animal carriers. Hence, home gardens and small farms are just as vulnerable as the vast expanses of Big Food.

And with Listeria, you don’t want to mess around with assumptions of safety. The fatality rate can be as high as 25 percent (compared with 1 percent for salmonella). Hardest hit are, as usual, pregnant women, elderly and people with compromised immune systems. And–best of all–you might not notice any “flu-like symptoms” until up to 70 days after you’ve eaten the cantaloupe (the average is about three weeks, though.)

Past outbreaks of Listeria involved meat and unpasteurized cheese and dairy products. The recommendation was always more heat to cook out the bacteria. That’s another thing that makes this troubling. You don’t cook cantaloupe (if you do, please send a recipe.)

So to protect your farm and family (farmily?) you have to take precautions. Most of these have to do with our old friend, the perennial top suspect on food safety’s Most Wanted list–Feces.

Chances are that Listeria winds up in the soil and water (and on your produce) from that manure fertilizer that also helps everything grow so well.

To keep it out, we gardeners need to manage the manure and also the watering well. The Colorado State Extension office has some excellent suggestions on these things, that you can read in detail here. However, I’ll summarize:

*Never put fresh manure directly into the garden. If it still looks and smells like manure, it’s too soon. It needs to be broken down, over several months,  into something drier that looks more like soil.

*Properly composted manure is safer than that which has been “aged.” To compost manure, it must reach 130 to 140 F two days out of a 5-day cycle. Then it should be aged at least 4 months. Manure you buy at garden stores is normally done this way.

*If you aren’t sure of that temperature, your manure is simply “aged,” as ours is. In that case, you should apply it in the fall. Work it into the soil, rather than leaving it on the surface.  There should be 120 days between the time you put it on and harvest.

That means we’re starting to think about lining up our supply right now. Aren’t we, Mike?

*Watch your watering, too. Be sure animals don’t have access to your garden water, and check around for possible runoff from animal pens or neighboring gardens that might not be as well managed.

Yes, keeping on top of all this is a bit of work. But control over these things is one big advantage home gardening has over the factory farms of Big Ag.

And it’s worth it.

Posted by: Roxie


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