Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rotten Sqash

We have many squash plants. We had a couple of them get really large. Well with two of our plants, we had a little mishap.

Our squash plants rotted at the main stalk! One of them was our best squash producer. They just started dying and the limbs were breaking on them.

When I was doing some work in the garden, I cleaned the squash plants out. Both of them came right out. The whole plant came out all the way, including the main stalk. It was rotten on the bottom. What in the world happened!?

I did a little reading and this is what I think it is: squash vine borers. The adult is a large black wasp with an orange ring around the abdomen. She lays eggs inside the upper stem and the larvae eat their way and grow as they move toward the crown. Eventually the crown is a pulpy mess and the vine dies. They do not sting, they are really a moth that flies in the daytime.

What in the world do we do to stop them??? After digging up some info, I found this information on Gardens Alive:

That’s easy, dress up like a butternut squash! Those vines’ solid stems terrify this parasite of pumpkins, zapper of zucchini and spoiler of squash!

This is an especially nasty pest because the ‘borer’, a grubby white caterpillar, hides inside the hollow vines of popular squash-family plants like pumpkins and zucchini as it does its dirty work. Gardeners generally don’t notice anything is wrong until the whole plant starts wilting, and by then, it’s generally too late. So we will focus here on prevention; don’t blame us if you end up with too much zucchini.

The problem begins in late Spring, when a moth lays its eggs at the base of your squash plants. Each female will lay about 200 eggs, but one at a time rather than in clusters, making the tiny eggs (a mere 1/25 of an inch long) almost impossible to spot. They hatch in a week or two, and the little caterpillars that emerge quickly tunnel into the hollow plant stems their eggs were so cleverly attached to. The caterpillars feed, hidden from view, for a month or so and then drop down into the soil to pupate. In the North, they emerge as adults the following Spring. Down in Manuel’s Texas, the first run pupates quickly into adults, whose children commit another round of squash vine damage before they drop down into the soil for the winter.

That’s means they’re in your soil right NOW. If you had borer damage last year, you probably have hibernating baby borers lurking in your dirt; just like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (don’t fall asleep in the garden!). Before you plant anything this season, use a hoe to cultivate the soil where your squash grew last year; look for cocoons an inch or so deep. If you find some, well…just make sure no one is watching and try not to sound too much like The Joker after he’s captured Robin the Boy Hostage again.

One way to avoid the adult moth—which looks like a little red-bellied wasp—is to cover your squash plants with floating row covers; these spun polyester fabric blankets (best know brand name: Reemay) allow water, light and air through, but prevent bugs of all kinds—including bees, which is a problem. If you go this route, make sure you plant where squash didn’t grow the previous year (or the moth may emerge inside the row covers—eeek!) and either grow self-pollinating varieties or lift the covers and pollinate the flowers yourself with a little paintbrush. In one-generation climes, you can remove the covers entirely by the Fourth of July; all the egg-laying action will be over.

An interesting variation on this technique is to cut little pieces of row cover and use them to just wrap the vine itself. Do this before you plant, so that the covered section of the vine extends below the soil line; and add more wrapping as the vine grows larger.

But the most reliable cure may be to grow your squash out in the open and use vigilance to get the eggs. You may not be able to see them, but a weekly spray of the vine with insecticidal soap will smother them nonetheless (use a commercial product, not home-made; there is a fine line between beneficial soap and plant-killing herbicide).

Or use BTK. This is where I assure worried Emily that BTK is indeed organic and non-toxic; one of the oldest organic pest controls, in fact. Sold under brand names like Dipel, Thuricide and Green Step, this form of Bt ONLY kills caterpillars that munch on the sprayed plant part; it affects nothing else. So spray the vines once a week and there will be BTK on the stem when that hungry, hungry caterpillar comes out and starts munching.

Or just wipe the stems every five days vigorously with a damp cloth and wipe away the eggs. An Auburn University researcher found this tip in a farming book from the 1890’s, when even now-ancient remedies like BT were still half a century in the future! Wiping with BTK or insecticidal soap should be even better.

Once the season is underway, carefully inspect each vine once a week; don’t wait for wilting! If you see a hole near the soil line and that distinctive greenish frass (bug poop) that the borers push back out of their comfy new home, slit the vine with a razor blade and find the caterpillar inside. We will now flash forward to you later heaping compost-rich soil over the damaged part of the vine. (Remember—no laughing like The Joker!)

Or inject the attacked vine with BTK. Or beneficial nematodes; these microscopic garden helpers love to prey on tasty caterpillars, and the moist inside of the vine will protect the nematodes as they go a’ hunting. You’ll find garden syringes sold for injecting nematodes and BTK at some garden centers and by mail order.

Well, to hold true to the fact that we don't have all the answers, here is our latest problem. I hope you guys learn from our mistakes.

Later Urbanites!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Self Sufficient Chickens!

We haven't actually produced eggs yet, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about the cost of producing them.We had the front costs of the $200 chicken coop, then the fencing, then all the time invested in it. Then the ckickens at $2.00 a pop, and all the equipment used to grow them.

We have the reoccuring costs now of all that feed. We give our chickens grass with tons of bugs, which is free, but we also give them natural feed and it is expensive, well relatively ($10 a bag of 40-50lbs). Each bag lasts about 1-1.5 months with all our chickens and ducks.

Well, I went to the farmers market this last Saturday and was talking to someone that we buy our organic produce from. We have come to an agreement that he will buy all of our leftover eggs for about 1.50 to 1.75 a dozen.

Our chickens will produce about 7 eggs a day max, so we will say 60 a week. We will probably eat 12 a week, maybe more when they are free. this will leave 48 eggs through the week to rid of. We will sell our organic, free-range eggs for $3.00/dz to strangers, then $2.25/dz for our friends, neighbors and extended family. Whatever is left we will sell to him for the price I mentioned.

If I never sold an egg except to him, I would get around $72-84 a week from our eggs. The best part is that we dont have to sit at a farmers market just to sell our eggs off. So if we make $72 in one week, that will cover my eggs and feed for many months. The chickens become self-sufficient!

Thats awesome, but even better... the money will go into expansion of our Urbanite Farm as in rabbits, more veggies, etc. I haven't even added what I could get from our duck eggs when we decide to start selling those eggs (more per dozen). It is about time we come up with a scenario for more than self sufficiency.

We have a very small set-up right now, so if we can start making money on our excess, so can you. Later Urbanites!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ugly Duckling

Photo: Waggles and Taggles (taken by Canon 50d)

The title means absolutely nothing. Only that we have ducks. You can see our farm set up here:

Video: Early farm setup Part 1 of 4 (taken by cell phone). You Tube Video.

Of course that is only part one of the videos. Here are the others.
I dont want to embed them, because it slows down the page uploading.
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

We have 2 ducks. They are dark Kahki Cambells. They are excellent egg producers, but not the most people friendly. They tolerate us more than really enjoying our company when we visit. Their names are Waggles and Taggles. Waggles was named due to the waggle of the ducks' tails and Taggles was named because she followed Waggles around.

Now ducks are the opposite of our chickens. Like people, female ducks are the loudest (Just kidding people, my wife is reading this as well and she is awesome... especially her sense of humor.) But you cant exactly produce with male ducks, so we deal with it.

When they were tiny babies, we could not tell. As they were growing, we noticed that one was taller than the other. It had a pump at the end of its beak. We didn't thing much of this yet. As they got older, the voice (or quack) of one changed into a quack (Taggles the short one), but the other kept the shrill chirp. We figured, "In it's own time, it will change," but we were growing more curious about the sexes of them.

The ducks grew larger and larger. It wasnt until about 15 to 18 weeks that the head of the big one changed to a dark green color, and it started growing the curved tail feathers that the drakes grow.

Of course we know now that it is male, but we can do nothing with it. Ducks are companion birds, so we cant get rid of Clyde and leave Bonnie all by her self. Our choice now is to go ahead and breed them, get more ducks, and then keep the breeding pair separate. This could change. That is what you get when you actually follow people that don't know it all and are learning.

Hasta Luego Urbanites!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chicken Little

Photo: Our chickens. (Canon 50d)

For our second post, I will discuss a little bit about our Chickens.

The next few posts may be a little dry for a few posts. There is a lot of info to add from past experiences. While I catch up to where we are today, I will be posting in past tense, but the info is just as good. And when it came to the chickens, we had a LOT to learn.

The cool thing is that we knew nothing about raising them and still succeeded.

We have 8 chickens. We have 2 buff orpingtons, 2 araucanas, 2 road island reds, and 2 barred rocks. We chose all of these for their egg producing capabilities. The araucanas are sometimes call "easter eggers" because their eggs come out blue or green pastel. Depending on the chicken you choose, you will get white, brown, or even blueish greenish pastel eggs.

Araucana Egg on Left

We ordered our chickens through a local farmers co-op. Typically when they sex these, it is when the bird has just hatched, so sometimes you will get a different sex than what you wanted. This happened to us.

Photo: Chicken Coop (Cell Phone photo)

If you think that you can't do what we are doing... think again. We are in the city, where they frown upon having fowl in your backyard. We asked around all of our neighbors, bribed some with eggs, and chose all females (no roosters!). Roosters are really loud and we didn't want to deal with that mess in town. We have only a half acre lot!!!

In the photo, you can see our basic set-up. In this photo, it wasn't fully finished, but we had converted a dog kennel in the back corner of our yard to a chicken and duck run. It's large, approx. 14x20 feet. If you come into my back yard, you may not even notice it is there because it is in a back corner.

I think this is where I insert my first setback: Our chickens until very recently seemed to be all female. I will keep you up to date, but we have a buff orphington that is growing a larger comb and waddle than all the other chickens. If this is the case I will be making a decision. First we wait until the first crow to truly find out. Once that happens, we are off to get the voice removed OR I will be giving it away to a friend of mine who lives in the country.

Also, I wish I could tell you that our chickens love to spend tons of time with us, but they don't. They aren't too afraid of us by now, but they dont flock to us when we're there. It is kinda difficult to pick them up without scaring them as well. We call them and feed them by hand some as well.

We are not trying to fool people, we read up on stuff first, but some things you just wont know till you get dirty.

This will conclude this post. If there is information that you would like on any post that I make, just message us. That may make for a good topic next time.

Later Urbanites!