Cucumber Beetles

Cucumber beetles…. mere mention strikes fear in the hearts of vegetable gardeners, countrywide. Or, at least, it should.

They attack flowers and ornamentals as well as cucumbers. In fact, over 270 plants in 29 families fall prey to this little trouble-maker.

To learn more, I consulted Golden Harvest Organics online library. It was fascinating to learn (among other things) that the beetles actually transmit bacterial diseases which overwinter in their intestines, infecting plants in their earliest of stages.

According to, the striped cucumber beetles do the most damage to the cucumber families or cucurbits, appearing a good four weeks before their spotted relatives.

Aside from hitting potatoes, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, fruits, and melons, they go after corn with a vengeance. Larvae infestation will impact the root system so forcefully, the corn appears to be drought-stricken. Adult beetles burrow into the silks when pollination is due to occur—resulting in “poor grain set.”

There are repellent plants which could be planted to deter the beetle and various other organic methods. (Try placing aluminum foil beneath plants to reflect light—the beetles prefer the underside of leaves because of the shade.)

David prefers the route of “integrated pest management” (IPM). Which is our very next blog entry….

Stay tuned.

The Three Sisters

More than 800 years ago the native American Iroquois people developed and employed a “cooperative” way of planting their three main crops:  corn, beans and squash—known as “Three Sisters.” 

If planted close together, the corn would provide a stalk upon which the beans would climb.  The beans would provide essential nitrogen to the soil and the large squash leaves would provide a ground cover to prevent the growth of unwanted plants and weeds.

We’re pairing two of the three sisters together this year. 

We grow rows and rows of butternut squash to allow proper garden space (after growing butternut for more than 10 years, I am still amazed at the amount of space the squash will eventually require).

The beans are nestled close to the corn, and once trained, will likely be very happy to hitch a ride on the cornstalks. This saves us the trouble of arranging a trellis of some sort and is a connection to history we’re happy to make.

‘Three Sisters” was all about maintaining an efficient garden, and environmental harmony as well.

Florida Weave

Over the years, we’ve grown hundreds and hundreds of tomato plants.

It all begins innocently enough: nothing beats the sweet smell of a little tomato plant on one of your first trips to the greenhouse in Spring (we just don’t bother to start tomato plants by seed—just a preference).

The thick, sticky little leaves…the bright green signaling the approaching summer…the visions of bulbous, red orbs packed into quart jars. Before you know it, you’ve got a row of 50 tomato plants. Cute, right? Until they’re waist-high, uprooting the tomato cages that were, at one time, way too big for the tiny plant.

Staking tomato plants. You name it; we’ve tried it.

This year, we’re going with the “Florida Weave.”

David has hammered wooden stakes 12 inches into the ground between every other tomato plant. The twine you use should be resistant to weather (obviously) and “grip” the stakes. We’re using baler twine.

Begin your twine about a foot off the ground, wrapping around the end stake and continue down the row “weaving” between plants—the object being the course of a figure 8 in twine supporting your plants. It’s recommended the figure 8 support is necessary only on the first level. From then on, you can just run straight down the row, attaching to stakes.

Many thanks to our friends at the Penn State Cooperative Extension website for posting this and many other helpful suggestions. Remember, there is a wealth of information available through your Cooperative Extension offices and websites!

Oley Valley Organics – Keeping a Healthy Farm

The day I visited Barb Dietrich at Oley Valley Organics a few weeks ago, it was still pretty chilly. That was probably a good thing because had I waited to schedule our little chat, chances are she’d be knee-high in asparagus weeding, harvesting, or both, right now!

To maintain a certified organic farm takes dedication, to say the least.

We know, here at our place, the level of work involved to combat weeds without the use of chemicals.

Yet to be a certified organic farm goes beyond that. It means you’re pledging your practices for the safe maintenance of the environment that surrounds you. And maybe, like the Dietrichs, you’ve also taken extra steps toward recovering an area (be sure to watch our webisode about Oley Valley Organics to see what I mean by “recovery”).

Finalizing the paperwork for our farm purchase in 2004 meant sitting in the realtor’s office with the former owners as we exchanged signatures. I remember a particularly somber moment for them when the place officially became “ours.”

There was a pause…and then I believe I thanked the former owner…he looked up, smiled, and said:  “I believe we never truly ‘own’ a place…we’re merely the keepers for a while”.

Here’s to all of those who “keep” healthy farms.

USDA-Certified Organic Farming

Tracy visits Oley Valley Organics, an organic farm established by Barb and Mike Dietrich in 2006. Barb talks about the steps required to qualify for USDA certification.

Preparing Horseradish

Back in the kitchen, Tracy prepares horseradish and demonstrates that this is no job for the faint of heart.

Sauerkraut Making – Webisode 2

Tracy completes her method of preparing homemade sauerkraut. We started the recipe in installment one of this two-part webisode. Click this link to see part one.

Blog Post About Our Peanut Webisode

We make an annual pilgrimage to South Carolina for our family reunion. That means a solid week of family-, beach-, and vacation-time. It also means BOILED PEANUTS!

Peanuts after two weeks of drying.

Boiled peanut history is a bit sketchy. Apparently, boiled peanuts were a direct result of Sherman’s march to the sea that split the Confederacy in half and deprived soldiers of food supplies. Peanuts were available and were either roasted or boiled. Someone added salt to a batch (maybe from fatback?? salt, during those times, was hard to come by) and discovered, not only was it tasty, it preserved the legume for up to a week in the soldier’s knapsack.

Our boiled peanuts rarely last an afternoon at the reunion. Over the years, we’ve reached an understanding: if anyone is headed out for a newspaper or sundries, you’d best not return without a bag of boiled peanuts.

Last summer, I asked the lady who runs the stand in Garden City, S.C. how to boil peanuts. It was July, in South Carolina, her store is barely air-conditioned and she said the peanuts boil in a kettle full of salted water for about five to six hours!

I’ll stick with the roasting for now…and count down the days to the reunion this year.

Peanut Harvesting and Preparation

We find Tracy in the peanut patch and learn more about this popular plant with the peculiar habit of ripening underground.

Blog Post About Our Sauerkraut Making Webisode

I believe sauerkraut was one of those accidental discoveries. Someone put cabbage in a vessel and just, plain, forgot about it. I’ve done that; who hasn’t?  Typically, it’s something in the very back of the refrigerator though… resulting in a finale not quite as pleasant as sauerkraut.

It’s easy to think of “kraut” being a German “discovery,” isn’t it?  After all, it’s a typical pairing on a German dinner plate.

Believe it or not, the beginnings of sauerkraut actually date back a full 2,000 years—to the Chinese laborers building the Great Wall. At that time, apparently the cabbage was fermented in rice wine, whereas today we know kraut-making as a “dry method” of salting the cabbage to extract the natural juices in which it will ferment. It’s believed to have spread to present-day Europe as nomadic tribes made their way to those parts—picture Genghis Khan, plundering all the way, energized by a crock of kraut!

Captain James Cook, the 18th Century Pacific explorer, always took a store of sauerkraut on his sea voyages, since experience had taught him that it was an effective preventative of scurvy.

So, sauerkraut fed laborers who eventually crafted a man-made wonder which can be seen from space, nourished nomadic tribes as they made their way around the world, and kept sea-farers free of scurvy. Nothing in the back of my fridge could ever fuel such remarkable accomplishments… but that’s why I have sauerkraut on standby.

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