Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bye Bye Zucchini

Aphids have decimated our zucchini

I think we’re learning valuable lessons here. About slowing down. 

For most of our 12 years together we’ve been full ON with food production-and Alder was an organic grower in Georgia before I met him and also grew food for others in two intentional communities. So he’s sort of always been full on. 

But now it’s just the two of us, no longer in Georgia, no longer with room or energy for interns, and no longer young. And it’s showing in our gardens. We just don’t have the energy or enthusiasm for doing as much as we
used to-especially me.
While we’re slowing down, we’re also continuing to learn (this is our 5th Summer here on this land) about what CAN grow, vs. what grows WELL, and about the climate. Goodness knows we are not in Georgia any more. 

This is California, and while people may think of it as the fruit/veggie and nut basket of America, there is one thing needed to produce all of these prolific and juicy crops here, that’s water. And there’s generally not enough to go around most years.

Yes, we could and have used considerable amounts of water to grow tomatoes, squash and zucchini and other common “water loving” summer veggies.


This climate has a definite wet and dry season. From about the end of May til the end of October it’s as dry as a bone. More so now, in September because everything has been without water (in the natural landscape) for months. Everything is dusty, brittle and waiting. The animals and insects are all seeking water and beginning to think about shelter for the winter. Every tiny insect and animal is seeking water right now. And where do they find it? Our garden. 

The deer come through and munch some, when the dogs are sleeping. The rodents chew holes in the thin drip tape. And the insects suck on plants. Which brings me to how we came to the conclusion that we really don’t need to grow (and therefore eat) certian summer veggies anymore.

Thriving aphid population on kale leaves
Last year we did well with zucchini but this year, it’s decimated. There are almost solid aphids on every plant and no fruit can even make it to finger size. It’s the same with the kale. Yes, we could spray it with something and hope we run off all of the aphids, or get some lady bugs and hope that they eat all of the aphids-the birds are eating some. But Permaculture teaches us to look with new eyes. And what I see is a landscape and people that need to be dormant in summer. In many climates the dormant period is in Winter. But not here. Here you die of heat, not hypothermia.

What I see is insects who want to drink water. And plants who need lots of water. 
So what if we only grew plants that did well in say, Africa, or Arizona? Last year we did really well with Hopi Winter squash, and our Spring crops do well, because we have rain then. Sweet potatoes don’t really need that much water through the summer, and you can eat the greens in the mean time. Carrots pretty much just sit there, needing little water all summer. 

Yes, we need tomatoes. NEED-as in over 100 quart jars of pasta sauce and more than that in pints of salsa. That’s what we got this year. So next year, we can literally take a total break from tomatoes.

And I have my “nibble garden” which is a small patch right outside the door for herbs, and tulsi and the ever present arugula, and my much loved marigolds. The arugula, parsley and salad burnett pretty much keep me in green stuff through the Summer. (I also drink a lot of dried nettle infusion and eat potatoes daily and carrots frequently, so I’m not lacking in minerals and vitamins.)
The Nibble Garden

What we discussed this week is probably not growing things like zucchini, kale, squash and peppers anymore. They just use too much water for this climate.  We can grow okra, and eggplant (they both need much less water) and Malabar spinach (Basella) and Florida lettuce (Talinum triangulare), and Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), which has a decent bit of protein (2%) and minerals for a tiny succulent weed that we couldn’t get rid of if we tried! It’s everywhere, so why not eat it!

It’s a matter of shifting our thinking towards what grows WELL AND without much water, vs. more commercial or traditional veggies found back East or in Northern Europe. 
And less watering tasks will be easier on us both. We really are starting to slow down, and just don’t want to do as much, but still want to be sustainable. So it’s a matter of working smart rather than hard, like we did with getting sheep, geese and a hyperactive dog on the land to keep down weeds and grass rather than mowing like suburbanites! That worked well, and I may never have to mow grass or weed-eat again!

So we’ll see how it goes. Yes, I will miss zucchini fritters and squash casserole, so maybe there will have to be a plant or two-but not in the quantity we have been. 

This is part of listening to the landscape and observing what we see, rather than forcing our will upon the land. This is living in community WITH nature rather than having control OVER it. And hopefully this will be easier.

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