Thursday, October 22, 2015

West Virginia!

Garden ministry. Sounds like a perfect job, if you ask me. And last weekend, we were able to use our background in gardening to serve a community.

Last Friday, Kayla, Robbie, Ashley and I met up with Zach in Cinci, and then from there we continued SE until we got to Summersville, WV (contrary to the summery name, it was freezing). By the time we got to the hotel, we were pooped (and a little slap-happy), so we went straight to sleep.

On Saturday, we drove a short way to Richwood, WV, where we were to meet Linda, a member of the church that’s interested in starting gardens around the town. The need here in this town is to have a way to get food even when the weather is bad. Richwood, a community of 2,000 people, has no grocery store, and the nearest one is 16 miles away in Summersville. Richwood is what is known as a food desert- the only FOOD available is from the Dollar General or the gas station.  When weather gets bad, people are simply unable to travel. So our goal for the weekend was to scout out the needs (perceived or otherwise) in the community and see if/how we could partner with them.

We breakfasted with Linda and then took a driving tour of the town, scoping out places where it might work to have a garden: an unused lot, behind the nursing home, next to church, etc.
That afternoon, we had a garden workshop at the church. Anyone from the church or community was invited, and I think we ended up with 8 people. Robbie shared about homesteading with livestock, Kayla shared about composting, Ashley shared about container gardening, and I shared about how to start a garden and a few pest-control techniques. This group was on fire!—they peppered the presentation with great questions that showed that they really are interested in making this happen.

A pizza dinner with more and more questions followed, after which our group got settled in Linda’s guest house and enjoyed an evening of debriefing and relaxation.

Sunday morning greeted us with quite a chill (27 degrees!), but we were cozy in our little cabin. At the church service, we were able to see the potential gardeners from Saturday’s workshop and meet some more of the members of this tiny, vibrant church.

More than the information that we gave them, I hope that we were able to give them a boost in morale! Seeing the enthusiasm of people like Linda and the pastor was encouraging to us as well.
We are all looking forward to how God continues to use us in this community!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh, the bounty.

It was quite an eventful weekend-- this was the weekend of the harvest party, and we’re pleased to report that over 100 people were in attendance :) 

These past few weeks have been pretty amazing. We had some hot days a few weeks ago, which was great news for our Malabar spinach (a tropical plant). In addition to that, we’ve been harvesting okra, tomatoes, green beans (still!), onions, raspberries, apples, tomatoes, kale, chard, collards, tomatoes, a few melons, broccoli, tomatoes, herbs, and peppers. Oh, and a few tomatoes.

Suffice it to say that the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few(er). With most of us starting classes, the garden hasn’t had quite as much attention as it was getting during the summer. However, with fall comes the end of the life cycle for many insect pests, and even the weeds stop growing quite so fast, so there’s a bit of respite that we’ve enjoyed. THIS is the time when we reap the bounty, the fruits of our many hours of labor. It’s a reminder of God’s faithfulness to bring everything in its own time and season.

We’ve had such an abundance and have been able to donate several flats of tomatoes to the Marion Mission Mart and also to St. Martin’s. It’s such a joy to be able to drop off garden goodies! We’ve been given that we might give; we’ve been blessed that we can bless. 

- Armi

Thursday, August 6, 2015

It's not raining anymore!

What a wacky season.

I don't mean to play the part of the perpetually-kvetching farm hand, but this weather has been really strange. With all that rain, it seems like the plants we put in the ground just sat there for a while, wondering if growth was even worth it. Some of the seeds we planted washed away and some of the transplants we put in the ground pleaded to be taken back to their temperature- and moisture-regulated greenhouse.

Essentially, it's been soggy and less-than-ideal.

However, we clung to God's promise that he'd never again flood the earth, and as always, he kept his word :) Within the past few weeks of sunshine, the okra plants have doubled in size, and tomato plants have started to bear gorgeous fruits, and all the plants have made use of the strong sunshine and have been busy growing and photosynthesizing. It's a beautiful thing.

So maybe I should have believed Annie when she said "the sun will come out tomorrow" (or maybe the next day, or maybe a week from then…but it will come out eventually).

While the garden has not been as abundant as it has been in the past, most of the plants have recovered from the deluge and are doing as well as can be expected. There's always a reason to give thanks!


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Raindrops and Rubies

What do you do when things do not go quite as planned?

Recently, we have had multiple changed plans, usually catalyzed by one thing.


While rain is a vital component to the life, health, and growth of a garden, too much rain can present as much of a problem as too little rain. A flood is just as hazardous as a drought. Water stress is visible everywhere, with pale leaves, stunted growth, and washed out soil.

However, while June was unusually wet, July looks promising. We have had some incredible harvests from our fruit trees and patches. The cherries were bountiful, the strawberries thrived, and the raspberries are producing a delicious crop. When we found the first few raspberries, there was much rejoicing as sweet garnet flooded our mouths. Searching for these gems is thrilling to the heart. Yet even more so, these rubies are signs of hope: Rain is good. The sun will come out. New life will grow.

In the meantime, we are dodging raindrops and hunting for berry treasure.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

    Tomato Guide
Ashley Sobczak
-          Planting:
o   Should be planted as deep as possible. It is recommended to take off the first couple sets of leaves and plant up to the first set left on. If you look at the stem of a tomato plant, you can see little “hairs” – these will turn into roots if covered in soil, so it is important to cover as many of those as possible
o   Plant leggy plants (those that have a significant amount of bare stem) horizontally so the soil goes just under the first good set of leaves. This will help the plant develop more roots
o   All tomato plants can be grown in a container – just make sure the plant has the right amount of soil – four quart pots are big enough for most varieties. Fertilizing will be more important than when growing in the garden
-          Soil:
o   Prefer a more acidic soil
o   Should be well-drained so that it doesn’t hold water as this can lead to diseases
-          Sun:
o   Prefer full (all day) sun – it’s typically recommended that they get at least 6 hours
o   Grow best when night temps are between 60 and 70 degrees; night temps above 75 degrees will stop setting of fruiting
-          Water:
o   Should be watered at time of planting to avoid shock
o   Need a decent amount of water, especially in the first couple weeks after they have been planted
o   Recommended they receive about 2 inches of water a week after the first five weeks (they need more at first)
o   Do not overwater them.
o   Mulching can be done five weeks after the plant has been transplanted and can help retain water
-          Space:
o   Usually need at least two feet of space between plants if more than one is being planted – it is recommended to have more space between to making harvesting easier and to give plants room to breathe
o   Can be planted in pots, but it is recommended that the pot be deep and at least 12 inches in diameter
§  bigger pot = more soil = more roots = more fruit
-          Fertilizing:
o   Recommended to be done two weeks before and after first picking, but it is not necessary
-          Diseases and Pests:
o   Susceptible to a variety of diseases and pests
§  Diseases: late blight, blossom-end rot, tobacco mosaic virus
§  Pests: aphids, flea beetles, tomato hornworm
-          Harvesting and Storing:
o   It is recommended to wait until the tomato is ripe to pick it, but they can be picked before they are ripe as long as they are close.
§  If a tomato is picked before it is ripe, it should not be placed in a sunny spot to finish ripening as it may rot before it is ripe. They should be kept in a paper bag in a cool, dry place
§  A ripe tomato will be slightly soft and may still have some yellow-green around the stem
§  Do not refrigerate fresh-picked tomatoes
o   Freezing:
§  Can be kept in a freezer to use for later
§  Should be cored and put whole into freezer bags
§  Skin will slip off when tomatoes defrost
-          Other:
o   Stakes or cages are highly recommended as tomatoes grow tall and tend to spread. Some varieties can simply be staked (a stake is usually bamboo, metal, or plastic), while others need a cage (usually circular metal). Plants should be staked or cage at the time of planting
o   Suckers are the small stems that start forming between the primary stem and the bigger “branches” coming off (see image). Suckers should be pinched off before they are allowed to grow too large. This will encourage the plant to put its energy towards producing fruit instead of towards growing these new “branches”
§  Suckers can be propogated, meaning they can be planted in fertile soil and watered liberally and they will begin to grow a new plant.

Other Information
-          What is an Heirloom Tomato?
o   Most of the plants we are selling are heirloom varieties. Essentially, an heirloom tomato is one that has not been genetically modified. The red, round tomatoes most people are used to have been genetically modified to look like that because that’s what people think tomatoes should be.
o   Since heirloom tomatoes have not been genetically modified, they tend to look different. The coloration is often different, as is the shape. Most heirloom varieties do not produce round and/or red fruit; it is normal for them to have unique shapes, including bumps, edges, divots, etc.
o   It is recommended that people try keeping the seeds to replant next year, these will be “true breeding” and produce the same kind of tomato that was planted. Seeds saved from hybrids cannot guarantee the same tomato the next year.
o   Heirlooms tend to go bad before regular tomatoes once picked and ripe
-          Determinate vs. Indeterminate
o   Determinate: the plant will stop growing at a certain height
o   Indeterminate: the plant does not stop growing at a certain height, but will continue growing as long as it receives the nutrients it needs
Our Varieties
Black from Tula Tomato-          Black of Tula
o   Growing
§  Can do well in hot weather – drought tolerant
§  Indeterminate
§  Ready 75-80 days from germination
§  Need more food than some varieties – high nitrogen and potassium, moderate phosphorous
§  Plant can grow 5-7’ tall and 2-3’ in diameter
o   Color: Deep reddish-brown meat with deep green shoulders (the part around the stem) and purple-black skin
o   Texture: Meat is smooth in texture
o   Flavor: Rich, sweet flavor that is slightly salty and smoky
o   Size: Weighs 8-12 ounces, about 3-4”
o   Uses: Beefsteak (good for slicing for sandwiches and burgers)
o   Other: Russian Heirloom variety
-          German Johnson
o   Growing
§  Ready 76 days after germination
§  Not as productive as other plants, but well worth it
§  Fairly disease resistant compared to other heirlooms
§  Thrives in hot, humid weather – can catch diseases if weather is too humid
§  Indeterminate
o   Color: Pink-red skin, green shoulders (part around the stem)
o   Texture: Very juicy and meaty, little seeds
o   Flavor: Mild flavor close to regular tomatoes
o   Size: 12-24 ounces (average 1 pound)
o   Uses: Good for slicing for sandwiches and burgers
o   Other: Related to mortgage lifter, a popular heirloom variety
-          Pink Brandywine
o   Growing
§  Ripen late
§  Ready 80-100 days after germination
§  Plants can grow 7-9’ tall and 3’ in diameter
§  Vining, sprawling growth habit
§  Produce later in the season
§  Not as productive as some varieties
o   Color: Rosy pink skin
o   Texture: Meaty
o   Flavor: Old-fashioned, intense tomato flavor, tangy
o   Size: 9-16 ounces
o   Uses: Beefsteak variety – good for slicing
o   Other: Most popular heirloom variety of any vegetable
-          Strawberry
Image result for strawberry tomatoo   Growing
§  Ready 85 days after germination
o   Color: Take the shape and coloration of a strawberry (hence the name) – deep red coloration
o   Texture: Small amount of seeds and juice
o   Flavor: Intense flavor
o   Size: Can get up to 1 pound in weight
o   Uses: Good for canning, roasting, snacking, and slicing
o   Other: German Heirloom variety
-          Large Red Cherry
o   Growing:
§  Extremely productive
§  Grows in clusters of five
§  Fruit is firm and keeps well after harvest
§  Indeterminate
§  Ready 73 days from germination
§  4-6’ tall and 2-3’ wide
o   Color: Deep scarlet in color
o   Texture: not as meaty as grape varieties, thinner skin
o   Flavor: Full, sweet flavor
o   Size: 1 ½-2” fruit size
o   Uses: Good for canning whole, snacking, or in salads; can be picked when green for pickling
-          Roma
o   Growing
Image result for roma tomato size§  Ready 73-80 days from germination
§  Determinate variety
§  Plants grow 4-6’ tall and 2-3’ in diameter
o   Color: Bright red in color
o   Texture: thick walls and very meaty; not juicy; thicker wall; fewer seeds than other varieties; denser but grainier flesh
o   Flavor: Tangy,
o   Size: Fruit tends to be longer (about 3”) and skinner than other tomatoes (almost egg-shaped)
o   Uses: Great for tomato paste and sauces, canning, or chopping; can be frozen; cooking intensifies flavor; not great for slicing