Posts tagged harvest

Last days of gardening

Normally, I don’t like to swear, but ARRGGHHH…. and #$@##!!!


   The last day for gardeners to work in their city-leased plots in Cedar Rapids is Sunday, Oct. 19, but that isn’t what got me riled.

   Parks workers will begin tilling garden plots at Tuma, Ellis and Squaw Creek parks on Monday, Oct. 20.  All produce, stakes, wire and plant ties must be removed by Sunday.


    It’s always sad to see the end of the gardening season, but it’s even more upsetting to have something taken by garden thieves.

    That’s what I discovered last night at my city-leased garden. Someone had taken every single one of the cabbage heads that I had planned to pick last night. The Grinch didn’t leave a single one! It was clear that it wasn’t a hungry critter by the clean knife slices on each of the plants; plus, at least the wildlife doesn’t hog everything, as this person did.


   I don’t mind sharing my veggies. In fact, I get the greatest sense of satisfaction in doing just that when I can donate to our local food pantries. But having someone take something without asking is low. I know it happens occasionally at some gardens and quite often at others.  It’s happened to us before, with sunflower heads and pumpkins, but cabbage??? And even though I doubt the thieves will be reading this, I have some suggestions for them.


1)      Ask first! There’s a good chance that many gardeners will gladly give you what you need.

2)      Don’t take everything. Chances are, I wouldn’t have missed a few heads of cabbage, or tomatoes or whatever else has been taken. But to steal everything is downright greedy.

3)      Change your ways! Click on the food pantries tab on this blog and find a place to donate those vegetables you took.



   A final thought: since some gardeners do abandon their plots before the final day of the season, there is likely good produce that goes to waste. Perhaps the Cedar Rapids Parks Department could allow “open harvesting” on the day after the gardeners have to leave.


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Harvesting winter squash

Richard Jauron, Horticulture Specialist at Iowa State University Extension, offers timely advice on harvesting winter squash:



    Harvest winter squash when the fruits are fully mature. Mature winter squash have very hard skins that can’t be punctured with your thumbnail. Additionally, mature winter squash have dull-looking surfaces.

   When harvesting winter squash, handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises. These injuries are not only unsightly, they provide entrances for various rot-producing organisms. Cut the fruit off the vine with a pruning shears. Leave a 1-inch stem on each fruit.

    After harvesting, cure winter squash (except for the acorn types) at a temperature of 80 to 85 degrees F and a relative humidity of 80 to 85 percent. Curing helps to harden their skins and heal any cuts and scratches. Do not cure acorn squash. The high temperature and relative humidity during the curing process actually reduce the quality and storage life of acorn squash.

    After curing, store winter squash in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location. Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55 degrees F. Do not store squash near apples, pears, or other ripening fruit. Ripening fruit release ethylene gas which shortens the storage life of squash.

   When properly cured and stored, the storage lives of acorn, butternut, and hubbard squash are approximately 5 to 8 weeks, 2 to 3 months, and 5 to 6 months, respectively.

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Victory Gardens

It appears the Oak Hill Jackson Neighborhood Association will soon have a demonstration garden in Poet’s Park, at Otis Road and 12th Avenue SE. An agreement expected to be signed today will now be signed on Monday, the group’s president, Michael Richards, said.

Richards and others hope the garden will inspire neighborhood residents to plant their own gardens.


Julie Sina, director of Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation, who is signing the agreement with the group, said that had the agreement been signed earlier, seedlings planted already would have been lost to this week’s frost. As an aside, she noted  that  the city gardeners at Ellis Park have seen their gardens wiped out by flooding this week from the Cedar River. This hasn’t been the ideal spring for gardeners.


On a more inspiring note, CURE International sent the following news release to me today. And Michael Richards passed along the item on peace gardens/victory gardens below.


LUSAKA, Zambia, May 2, 2008 – As food costs continue to rise around the world, the CURE International children’s hospital in Zambia has cultivated a ground-breaking solution. Many young patients arrive at the hospital so malnourished their frail bodies are unable to handle surgery. In an effort to strengthen their bodies and immune systems, children are fed a nutrient-rich diet of vegetables pre- and post-treatment.

When a hospital administrator noticed the cost of purchasing and transporting fresh produce was rising, he decided the hospital should grow a garden of its own. By converting unused land into farming ground and hiring two full-time gardeners, his research revealed that the hospital could yield enough crops to fulfill its needs and the project would pay for itself by the first harvest.

The first harvest was abundant, providing enough food for all of the hospital’s patients and staff members. There were even enough vegetables to sell to the local community at reduced rates. Hospital gardeners have also started teaching their advanced agriculture techniques to the patients’ family members so that they can apply it to their own gardens when they return home to their remote villages.

CURE, the largest provider of specialty surgical care in the developing world, treating more than 650,000 children to date, brings children around the world the benefits of First World health care. One hallmark of all CURE hospitals is to provide meals for patients during their treatment. CURE’s hospital in Zambia was established in conjunction with UK-based charity, The Beit Trust, as a pediatric orthopedic and neurosurgery training center.



Peace Gardens

One of the most successful civilian programs in WWI and WWII was the widespread cultivation of home victory gardens. The Federal Government did not support this program at first, due to the belief that it would be a poor allocation of resources and essential labor for a tiny yield of output.

But as many of America’s farmers went overseas to fight, domestic food production dwindled. This caused shortages and strict rationing of foodstuffs. Victory gardens quickly became an essential part of the civilian war effort. These small gardens supplied low cost and nutritious produce, and helped build morale during the hard times. By growing victory gardens, our grandparents resolved their food shortages through practicality and common sense.

Today, we Americans are confronted with similar dilemmas which could imperil our very survival: an economy in deep recession, a devalued U.S. dollar, war in the Mideast, totalitarian repression at home, contaminates in the food chain. Add to this the decline of small and family farms, the explosive growth of global factory farming, genetically modified seeds and foods, declines in food production due to drough and global warming, water pollution, and an ever increasing reliance upon imported food. By considering these factors, we begin to see the approaching spector of global famine on the horizon.

Today, the creation of home gardens has become an important aspect of personal sustainability. In a few short years it will be an absolute necessity. Because of this we must relearn these traditional skills, and begin supplying our own produce, just as our our grandparents did.

Gardening is a healthy and satisfying endeavor. It provides numerous benefits, including a sense of accomplishment and personal wellbeing, an inexpensive supply of high quality vegetables, and builds morale during stressful times. Growing vegetables reconnects us with nature, and strengthens us in many ways. Gardening is a perfect antidote for these dark and depressing times. I think of them as “Peace Gardens.”

A surprising quantity of delicious and healthy produce can be grown in this way, and it is easier to accomplish than one might suppose. This can be done almost anywhere: in backyards, vacant lots, in containers or planter boxes, on porches or on window ledges. Community gardens are popping up in urban areas as well as in small communities accross the country.

Small gardens are easy to create using inexpensive, local materials: wood, stone, soil, compost, manure, and water. The size and layouts of the gardens will be dictated by the spaces available. Raised beds are a good solutions for most gardens, and can be built using clean recycled wood, or local stone. They should be designed to provide good drainage (Gravel can be put in the bottoms to assist drainage). The best raised beds are 3-4 feet wide, 16″-24″ deep, and can be worked from either side.

When picking a spot, make sure that is has good solar access, and the availability of good water. If you must use city water, acquire food grade 55 gallon plastic barrels as a temporary holding tanks. This will allow the chlorine in the city water to evaporate prior to watering. Roof water catchment is also a good alternative in areas where pollution is minimal.

Find the best garden soil that you can acquire. Do not dig soil near roads or highways, as these are all polluted with petro chemicals and lead. Ask around and find our where others get their garden soil. It should have lots of worms. Soil with a high clay content can be used, but must be improved. If you must use soil that is marginal, start by sterilizing it with solar, heat or steam. This will kill all bacteria, spores and nematodes, etc. Then augment the soil. You can add washed sand, wood shavings, organic compost, chicken, sheep or horse manure (seasoned not fresh), etc. Mix it in well with shovels and pitchforks.

The economic gifts of gardening are considerable. In addition to supplying ourselves with high quality organic vegetables at a low cost, we are also able to trade, barter or sell our extra bounty. This facilitates our participation in the alternative (underground) economy. The alternative economies will be essential as the traditional ones will soon collapse under their own dead weight.

As spring approaches, it is a good time to begin gathering the seeds, the supplies and the tools necessary to begin gardening. During the dark and cold months that precede spring, one can brush up on the essentials of gardening: composting and making soil, acquiring organic fertilizer, sprouting and planting the seeds, making raised beds, protecting the seedlings from pests, weeding, harvesting, “putting up” the produce, and finally – the many ways of preparing and eating the bounty. There are numerous resources available to assist in this learning process: Libraries, used book stores, university extension programs, and best of all – from experienced gardeners in our own communities.

Planting a peace garden is an excellent vehicle for re-establishing one’s connection with nature, restoring one’s place in the natural food chain, for preserving personal freedom, and for sewing the seeds of peace. This is the essence of true homeland security.

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Mammoth peas

\"Mammoth\" peas

Just two weeks since being planted indoors, these Mammoth Melting Sugar peas are living up to their name. The snow peas, started in newspaper containers, can be planted directly into the ground, pots and all (see Potmaking 101 post to watch a how-to video.)

The peas prefer cool weather and are ready to plant in the garden. Because snow peas can be picked before the pods fill out, I stand a better chance of beating critters to the harvest. Plus, the pods can be frozen to use in stir fry, long after the growing season ends.

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