The Milkweed Diaries

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Dreaded Spotted Cucumber Beetle

We are watching our squash and cucumber plants like hawks...looking out for the D.S.C.B.

They are not picky eaters at all--they will of course eat cucumbers, as their name suggests, but also squash and melons and even hawthorn leaves. I'm very protective of my Zephyr squash that's just starting to come in, so I've been vigilant about the beetles.

More than vigilant. More like a beetlecidal maniac. I prowl the rows, capturing and crushing. There are very few now, but I don't want them to make it to the point in their 6- to 9- week life cycle where they make more beetles. Only two showed themselves today, and both met quick deaths by squishing.

There seems to be some interesting research on drenching the soil with rhizobacteria, which simultaneously promotes plant growth and decreases the production of the phytochemical that encourages the beetles to feed. There are no innoculant blends yet, but it seems like such a great idea--stacking functions--to add beneficial bacteria to the soil and discourage beetles at the same time. There aren't any organic pesticides that are specific to the D.S.C.B. -- just broad spectrum pesticides that would kill beneficials too.

So for now it is prowl and squish. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Living Wealth: David Korten

A friend of mine just sent me a great article by David Korten (at left) about the concept of Living Wealth. It's coincidental timing, because I've been reading Joanna Macy, and Korten and Macy work together on the concept of The Great Turning.

In any case, the article is a great overview of the kind of shift in our ways of thinking about wealth and prosperity that is so critical in this moment. Here's a snip from the Korten article:

"Real wealth is created by investing in the human capital of productive people, the social capital of caring relationships, and the natural capital of healthy ecosystems."

Read the whole article here: Living Wealth

More on garlic....

All week, CF has been digging garlic. We've tied up garlic with various friends and family as it's been harvested, and there is now a formidable amount hanging on the north side of our house under the porch roof (some of which is pictured at left).

I thought it merited a couple more photos ... here's my dad and Christopher and some German Brown that they dug and hung.

There's still more in the ground, but I imagine it will all be harvested by the first of July...

We come in peace, to dig and sow

Today LJ and JDH IV and I dug a new bed, in which Bud planted 2 long rows of seed corn.

I'll plant black beans in between the corn rows tonight once it cools down a little.

It was so delightful to dig with friends. Unbelievably, we didn't think to sing the Diggers anthem that LJ and I have been singing intermittantly for the past 24 hours, which actually mentions corn specifically - more on this later.

Bud says that the first time he planted corn was in 1998 after he got back from England (home of the original Diggers of 1649 fame, incidentally). So 10 years later, he's still planting corn. He's planted it pretty much everywhere he's lived -- mostly in cities. I remember him tending a couple of rows on Crown Street in West Asheville years ago when we first knew each other.

Here's Bud planting corn today.

I wonder if corn was grown on this land in prehistory? It's an ancient, ancient food, and I'm grateful to Bud for blessing this land by planting some here now.

Now, back to the Diggers. I've heard this song called both "The Diggers' Song" and "World Turned Upside Down" -- it was written by Leon Rosselson based on the true history, and the first version I heard and loved was performed by John McCutcheon. Later I came to to love Billy Bragg's version too.

It's a great song for today's digging with friends, and all work to restore and renew the commons, cultivate land, grow food, resist "the god of greed," and build community....

In 1649
To St. George’s Hill,

A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people’s will

They defied the landlords

They defied the laws

They were the dispossessed
reclaiming what was theirs

We come in peace they said

To dig and sow

We come to work the lands in common

And to make the waste ground grow

This earth divided

We will make whole

So it will be

A common treasury for all

The sin of property

We do disdain

No man has any right to buy and sell

The earth for private gain

By theft and murder

They took the land

Now everywhere the walls

Spring up at their command

They make the laws

To chain us well

The clergy dazzle us with heaven

Or they damn us into hell

We will not worship

The God they serve

The God of greed who feeds the rich

While poor folk starve

We work we eat together
We need no swords

We will not bow to the masters

Or pay rent to the lords
Still we are free

Though we are poor

You Diggers all stand up for glory

Stand up now

From the men of property

The orders came

They sent the hired men and troopers

To wipe out the Diggers’ claim

Tear down their cottages

Destroy their corn

They were dispersed

But still the vision lingers on

You poor take courage

You rich take care

This earth was made a common treasury

For everyone to share

All things in common

All people one

We come in peace

The orders came to cut them down


Speaking of good clean fun, we celebrated my dog-niece Pippen's first birthday last weekend.

Pippen got a can of catfood with a candle in it and some kind of dog treat called "Grizzly Nuts," and the humans got FRESH BROCCOLI straight from the garden!

We harvested the first two heads, and many broccoli antics ensued (see below). We steamed it lightly and had it with some roasted garlic mayonnaise .... mmmmmmmm!

There's lots more broccoli out there, so I can only imagine the possibilities. This is what happens when you don't have TV.

I remember eating broccoli from my mom and dad's garden as a little girl, so it was great to be able to feed them some from mine. In any case, here's my broccoli-loving sister with the goods.

Bring on the broc.....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Garlic harvest

Last night we started digging up the garlic, and as luck would have it, Melissa was here to school us in a far better method than we used last year for hanging it up to dry.

While I was cooking up chard, kale, mustards, and herbs to toss with pasta for dinner, Christopher and Melissa tied up all of the Inchelium Red and Polish Hardneck. Bud kept us entertained with a running stream of conspiracy theory and Mr. T videos.

Inchelium Red

This morning Christopher pulled the next variety of garlic, Transylvanian Artichoke, which turned out to be whoppingly huge.

Frankie looked on, stoned on catnip, from an adjoining garlic bed.

Frankie tripping

While C. pulled Transylvanian, I planted the last of the zephyr squash starts with Black Oil Seed sunflowers and Cherokee black beans in the bed where the Inchelium and Polish garlic had come out last eve. We used this same succession planting last year--the timing works well and the legumes seem to build the soil after the garlic is done.
Transylvanian Artichoke

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fat, beautiful parsleyworm...and some less desirable garden vistors

Watering the garden this evening, I came across this beautiful creature (at left) in the towering fennel.

Thanks to the internet, I was able to perfom a quick google ("fat black yellow striped caterpillar") and discover that s/he is a parsleyworm, which is actually the caterpillar stage of the black swallowtail butterfly.

Thankfully, I did not squish before googling. After attending "Bug Church" at the Organic Growers School, I know better.

It turns out that they don't eat much and really don't affect the health of their host plants unless the plant is already weak or there is a major infestation.

In any case, this caterpillar was gorgeous. And really fat. I wonder if s/he will make it to butterflydom or get eaten by a bird first? Apparently they have "a forked, glandular process behind the head that can be everted to emit a strong odor distasteful to predators." (Arthropod Museum Notes.)

So after the photo shoot, the parsleyworm went back to her normal life and I moved on to finish watering and weeding.

A few minutes later I came across a spotted cucumber beetle and then some eggs that turned out to be cucumber beetle eggs (see below). The spotted and striped cuke beetles, tied for second place most despised insect in my life (after the mexican bean beetle), were swiftly executed (squished, drowned in steeping compost tea - what a way to go).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cabbage worm update

So the cabbage worms are doing what they do best: eating cabbage. We sprayed BT on the cabbage yesterday, and we'll hit the rest of the brassicas today.

I learned from Sandi that Christopher's pool net method is not entirely unique. She uses a badminten racket for cabbage moth control (see below).

We'll be able to save these cabbages, but I felt a blood lust for cabbage worms after seeing the damage. Here's to helpful bacteria (BT) and the good old-fashioned methods, too.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Radishes....crunchy, spicy, and EASY

Here are some "Easter Egg" radishes we harvested this week...we interplanted them with Spanish Black radishes and Nantes carrots.

The radishes grew so fast, and were so easy.

They practically beg you to pull them when they're ready, bulging up out of the ground. Seeing the purple, pink, and white radishes of this variety nestled down in the dirt really does remind me of an egg hunt.

We've been eating them in salads, and the sheer profusion of them inspired me to make the first batch of kraut of the year, which should be super-radishey. I used almost all local produce--cabbage, beets, and walla walla onions from the farmer's market, radishes and dried last-year's dill from our garden, and some non-local carrots.

Mmmmm, it already smells great, krautey, and sour!

Monday, June 9, 2008


Since it has been over 90 degrees every day lately, blogging in the nice cool house is more and more apealling.

So here are a few updates and enhancements to previous posts....

First (above), the much-hyped photo of CF on cabbage moth patrol in the garden with pool net in PJs. Apparently he has developed a very effective method for total cabbage moth annihilation. And it fits with the permaculture practice of "stacking functions" because it provides fine entertainment for me at the same time.

Despite the fact that we have not sprayed BT (yet), the brassicas are kicking it out--see below.

Broccoli and cauliflower

Kales and cabbages

Brassica explosion!

Also, the Cherokee black beans are up (see the remnants of the bean still on the sprout?)

And the red mustards are HUGE (see below).

I think that's all I have to report for now. Keep on rockin (vegetables) in the free world, as they say.....


Photo by Debi Cates

Over the weekend, we planted the last of our hot-weather starts, including 3 varieties of okra.

One heirloom variety that we planted, Fife Creek Cowhorn is said to have been in the Fife family since around 1900 and believed to have came to them from a Muskogee (Creek) Indian woman who stayed with them in Mississippi.

There is
plenty of discussion online about the history of okra, and how it might have come to the US, but it seems clear that it is an African native that was brought here by slaves. (Reccomended reading: 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From by William Woys Weaver.) In fact, since there is ample historical evidence (including oral family histories of people of color in the US) to suggest that escaped slaves were integrated into Native American/First Nation communities, it's easy to imagine that the Fife Creek okra we're growing came into the hands of the Muskogee/Creek woman (who may have also had African heritage) directly from people of African descent.

Okra was a staple of many African cultures before the slave trade.

Imagine African people, ambushed, kidnapped, forcibly taken from their homes into the slave trade, somehow managing to carry seeds with them. Were the seeds secreted away in a pocket or pouch? Were they passed from one pair of hands to another as people grew sick and died on the grueling "Middle Passage" journey across the Atlantic on slave ships? Did different people carry different varieties of okra seeds with them?

Of course imagining how okra came to us makes me think: what would people of our culture take with them if, in an instant, we could grab a few most-important things from our homes to carry on a long, forced journey with an unknown end? What do we value in the way that kidnapped slaves valued seeds?

What the Cherokee people took, what the Africans soon to be slaves took, what the indigenous peoples pressed into slavery and moved from one part of the Americas to another took with them were seeds. The food we eat is a gift from those who placed such a high value on seeds, on food, on the continuity of life that they carried seeds through circumstances most of us cannot even imagine.

In many villages where slaves were captured,
the women and girls planted the seeds, brought water from the river for the young plants, worked the soil, and harvested the food. The adas, eldest sisters, were the keepers of the seeds and the settlers of disputes. Last night, watering the small okra plants in our garden, I said thank you to the adas.


West African women

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Spotted Salamander

Last spring, somewhere midway through the back-breaking process of digging new garden beds, we started talking about renting a small tiller to make life easier for ourselves. We knew we really didn't want to till, and that we wanted to grow in bio-intensive raised beds, but we were thinking of just doing it once, for the first year, to make the digging less exhausting. We had pretty much decided to go ahead and compromise and till, when we had an encounter that made us swear off the tiller forever.

I was digging one day with the moral support of Mom and MT when I uncovered a huge, fat, beautiful salamander--shiny black with yellow and red spots, at least an inch wide and eight or nine inches long, and looking something like the noble creature pictured above. She was gorgeous! She scuttled under some sheet mulch after we had all had a good look at her, and we knew then that a life of no-till fundamentalism lay ahead of us. If we'd been using a tiller, that salamander would have been toast.

Last Sunday, almost a year after the first sighting, we had another spotted salamander encounter. Digging the first Three Sisters bed, I was chopping away with a hoe-like cultivator, when who should I uncover but The Spotted One. We had to move this one, to avoid injuring her with our shovels and cultivators, but I felt like seeing her was a reminder to slow down, take care, and pay attention.

It turns out that the Spotted Salamander is fairly widespread (see the map of their range above).

Googling turned up lots of information on these beautiful amphibians. It turns out that they are a type of "mole salamander," which makes sense, since they seem to burrow out mole-like tunnels.

They apparently have a "brief but intense" mating season in January and February in watery areas--creeks, ditches, or "vernal pools"--and the eggs develop in the water. We've seen eggs like these in our creeks in the winter and early spring and assumed they were frog eggs, but maybe they were salamander eggs!

In elementary school, I did a project on salamanders, and learned that there are more varieties in western North Carolina than anywhere else on the planet. We've seen quite a few different types on our land, but the Spotted is the only one who hangs out in the garden (that we know of). There's a slender silvery little one that lives down in the pipe where the well water hook-up is. I've heard that seeing a salamander is an old mountain indicator of clean water.

Salamanders are an indicator species, which is good news.

And, they eat cabbage moth larvae!!! It's clear from the tunnels throughout the ground that we were digging up that they help break up the soil, too. So I would call them beneficial amphibians.

Anyway, check out these amazing photos of the life cycle of a Spotted Salamander -- they begin as aquatic creatures that swim and live underwater and then become burrowing land lubbers, until they head back to their birthplace to make more salamanders.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Further Adventures in Local Food

The Co-op had local shitake and oyster mushrooms today, so we had them for dinner sauteed in butter with garlic scapes from our garden, and parsley. Mmmmm!

Shrooms and scapes at right

Also lettuce is coming in hot and heavy these days, so we had a delectable super-fresh salad with lettuce, chives, and borage flowers from the garden.

Spring is here and the local eating is easy.

Salad of mixed lettuces with chives and borage flowers

Cabbage worms

Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of Christopher in his pajamas in the garden catching cabbage moths with a swimming pool net. So far, our haphazard methods of cabbage moth/worm control have been limited to Christopher's antics with the swimming pool net and my pick-n-squish endeavors with the larvae.

Nonetheless, we're not noticing too much damage from the larvae -- cabbage worms -- yet, but we're vigilant because there are lots of the pretty white moths (pictured above) around and we have created a very enticing brassica buffet of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, various kales, and collards.

While amusing to our neighbors, the pool net method is probably not good enough to keep down the cabbage moth damage through the season. And the plants are doing so well that pick and squish is getting to be a time-consuming chore. Most organic pest experts recommend spraying with BT to kill the larvae. Here's a great gardening blog--veggiegardeningtips--with a post on cabbage worm control, for example.

We'll see if we resort to's looking likely....but I'll probably also try planting dill around the brassicas, which is said to repel both aphids and cabbage moths. Even if it doesn't work, it's beautiful, attracts beneficials, and we'll use it for pickles, potato salad, sauerkraut, and other delights. See the wiki companion planting entry for more on dill and other companion plants for pest control.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Spring harvest

Tonight's dinner included garlic scapes (left), greens (below) -- chard, collards, mustard greens, purple and green kale--and fresh herbs (parsley, chives, and oregano) all from our garden .... mmmmm!

Trail of Tears Beans

This year, for the 4th or 5th season, I am planting shiny black beans known as Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans. We will let the beans dry on the vine and harvest them in the late fall for delicious dry black beans. These beans are close to my heart, and I love to plant them and share seeds because their ancestors came from this place, and they are gifts from the people who lived in these mountains before me.

They carry the history of a people that survived brutality, dislocation, and degradation. And planting these beans represents to me a homecoming of a land-based, earth-honoring tradition in these mountains.

In 1839 the US government forced most of the people of the Cherokee nation to walk west from Georgia, North Carolina, northeastern Alabama, and Tennessee to what is now Oklahoma. The distance traveled by most of the people was about 1,000 miles, with the vast majority of the travelers making the entire journey by foot. The forced march, now called the Trail of Tears, began in October of 1839. Cherokee people walked the thousand miles over the course of a harsh winter. The walk began after many had already been held for months in internment camps, where conditions were degrading, violent, and cruel. By the time the removal was over, roughly one-third of the men, women, and children had died.

When the time of internment and removal began, many Cherokee people were forced to pack quickly. People took only what they could carry, often having to decide in a hurry what was most important to them that could be taken on the journey to an unknown new home. Some people carried seeds.

The seeds of dry black beans now called the Cherokee Trail of Tears Black Bean were grown in the mountains of Western North Carolina for thousands of years. Someone carried them on the Trail of Tears. A Cherokee man in Oklahoma donated seeds from this bean variety to the Seed Savers Exchange and so we are able to bring a
few back to the mountains to plant in our river valley, where Cherokee people and their ancestors lived for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

The Cherokee people, and the other peoples of the decimated cultures that remained after the European invasion of the Americas saved the seeds that had been planted by their ancestors: corn, squash, herbs and flowers, grains. And beans: hundreds, maybe thousands of ancient varieties of beans.

Skimming through the Seed Savers Exchange catalog it is easy to see the fingerprints of First Nation seed-keepers:

Hopi Gold: "another strain guarded as ancient legacy by Hopi elder James Koorshongsie." Hyote: "from Violet Ruben, Seneca, Tonawanda Reserve." Seneca Stripe: " via Geraldene Green, Seneca Faith Keeper, Cuttoragus Reserve." Speckled Algonquin: "via Tamarack Song of WI, originally from Algonquin Indians of upper Midwest." Taos Pueblo Red: "Native American name is Ta-pie-eh-na, red-streaked pod, red seed, on of traditional foods cooked for boys during training in the Kiva. . .from the late Old Joe Concha."

What is our responsibility to these elders? How can we honor and give gratitude to James Koorshongsie, Violet Ruben, Geraldine Green, Tamarack Song, Old Joe Concha, and all of the unnamed figures in the largely unwritten history of the food on our tables?

How do we retrace the steps of these ancestors and recover the intimacy with the natural world that was at the core of their systems of living? By planting a bean, covering it with dirt, giving it water and sun. By encouraging all of the life in the soil and air and water that nurtures the seed: worms, beneficial insects, microscopic life forms. By cultivating intimate relationships with the plants that feed us and the earth, air, water, and light that feed them. By preserving the seeds that sustain human life for another generation.

Nurturing the small bean plants in my garden, I honor the lost, forgotten, fragmented, and violated cultures and people that stand at the beginning of an unbroken chain of life between the tiny green plants in my garden and the plants grown by peoples of the Americas before European invasion.

Harvesting the beans in the fall, I invoke and offer gratitude to the people who stewarded, protected, and cultivated the bean-ancestors of my garden plants. I say a prayer to the earth for the restoration of human relationships with the natural world.

Planting beans in my garden, I give thanks.

The Swananoa Valley river bottom land where we are growing food, where people have grown food for thousands of years....