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Archive for August, 2010

Parsleyworm Normally, when an insect attacks the vegetable garden a gardener’s revenge is swift and decisive. Although we don’t mind sharing, some bugs take more than their portion, stripping plants to the point where we have to show them the door – or the neighbor’s garden – and order them to leave.

But this summer a beloved insect is back on the plants, nibbling on members of the carrot family and delighting everyone who sees them. Blaring their presence with a striping of black, white, and yellow, the parsleyworm (Papilio polyxenes) is one visitor you might want to let stick around.

When little, this caterpillar’s coloration has it dressed up like bird droppings, something that makes predators think twice before eating it. If the predator is determined to chomp them, the parsleyworm has another trick up its sleeve: they push a pair of orange, smelly “horns” from their head. As long as you’re not sniffing their head when they do this, it’s an endearing trick.

Yes, they’re eating the parsley. And the dill, fennel, and carrots. This is a small price to pay for nurturing the Black Swallowtail butterfly, which is what these very hungry caterpillars grow into. Should you want to control them, pick them from the plant or spray with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), an organic insecticide.

But if you choose to let these lovely creatures live to become adults, don’t worry if your caterpillars disappear from the plants. After stuffing themselves, the caterpillars roam about, looking for a place to spin their chrysalis in which to pupate. You’ll see your parsleyworm again, this time as an adult, a large black butterfly with yellow and blue spots.

 Flitting through the garden, sipping nectar and visiting flowers, this butterfly and its two close relatives, Tiger Swallowtails, are as welcome as fireworks on the Fourth of July. Attracting them to your garden is simple: plant food for the caterpillars to eat, such as parsley, carrots, or dill for Black Swallowtails and willow, green ash, or chokecherry for Tiger Swallowtails. Don’t forget to add in flowers to give adults nectar to sip, particularly butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.), geraniums, butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.), or zinnia.

After all, you don’t mind sharing, do you?

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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Watching the judging before the doors open is one way to learn all about flowers, crops, and pantry items.  The market goats were getting ready for their show later today. 

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It’s fair time – one of my favorite times of the year.  Plan a trip to your local fair to see all manner of animals, plants and homemade goods.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

Ready for the summer to heat up a bit?  Then fasten your seat belts and put your tray tables in their upright position:  it’s garlic time.  From spicy hot to nutty mellow, big flavor sprouts from these little cloves. If you’re growing garlic for the first time, Now is the time for you to plan your harvest.  

Hardneck garlic throws a curled, flowering stem called a “scape” that, if left on the plant, eventually turns woody.  Softneck garlic doesn’t normally do this.  

Now, if you want big bulbs, those scapes have to be cut from the plant, snipped off before it makes a loop.  But don’t worry if you missed cutting them from the plant and it bloomed – from this flower small bulbils will form that grow into small bulbs in a couple of seasons.  If you’re interested in propagating your garlic from these bulbils, leave them in place until harvest time and then dry them separately from the bulbs.

Once garlic throws scapes and the tips begin browning back, stop watering it.  Let the leaves die down and harvest when the lower leaves are half to three-quarters brown.  Use a flat shovel or garden fork to loosen the ground near the bulbs and then lift the plants by hand.

Check the first bulbs you pull before harvesting the whole lot by gently brushing away the dirt to look for maturity. They should have reached a good size and be well wrapped in skin.  To help them dry quickly, hang them upside down to cure in a dry, warm, dark, airy place for a few weeks, then cut stalks one inch above the bulb for storage.

 Early varieties should be ready in mid to late July, with mid and late season garlic ready through late August.  

Garlic comes in dozens of delicious varieties, so shop your local farmer’s markets for new types to try.  Some are mellow and good keepers; others are spicy-hot and best used soon.  Make note of the types you liked, then get certified disease free cloves for planting in the fall from places such as Filaree FarmThe Garlic Store, or Gourmet Garlic Gardens.   

Shop now for best selection – these stores often sell out their garlic, which will be shipped to you in September for planting.  Because of the possibility of chemical storage treatments or disease, don’t plant garlic you buy at the grocer’s.

If you’re a rookie gardener, be aware that garlic varieties offer subtle to strong flavor.  Softneck varieties – those with soft center stalks – are tolerant of common mistakes and easy for beginners to grow.  The bulbs are larger than hardneck varieties and have more cloves. They store well, sometimes for up to 9 months.

Hardneck varieties have a center stalk that is stiffened and woody.  They have fewer cloves and are larger and easier to peel than softnecks.   Both types offer great flavor.  A word of caution on garlic, however.  Depending on the garlic, one bulb will provide many cloves for planting, and you’ll get plenty of garlic bulbs if you plant them all.  This is a lesson I learned due to my enthusiasm for trying nine varieties of garlic.  Silly me, I planted every clove from every bulb, and now I have enough garlic to feed a Tuscan village. 

Eating all of it is out of the question, and now I’m assessing my friends and family to see if they will take some off of my hands.  Every vegetable gardener goes through this.  Each season brings a bounty of one crop or another, and people who are normally friends or acquaintances suddenly become targets for excess produce giveaways. 

 We have a wonderful organization here called Community Food Share, which takes excess produce from gardeners and gives it to those who need it.  Many food banks usually welcome most produce from local gardens provided that it is fresh, undamaged, and clean.  Take your extras to them and let others share in the bounty of the harvest.

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