Irma Gall, Lend-A-Hand Center co-director, writes a weekly column for the Barbourville Mountain Advocate. Here are some of her recent articles:

Right Out of Our Garden

“Can we really eat right out of our garden?” was the excited cry from some of the Y Guys. “Sure, but that does not mean eating in the garden, but we can pick a ripe tomato right now and eat it in the garden.” So last Tuesday Charity and Sarah got their containers and joined me toward the garden.

We headed straight toward the potato row which took a little searching since the potato stalks were dead and the hot wet weather had caused the weeds to grow. Why can’t we make food or money from morning glories; they seem to grow easily and are plentiful. We were glad I had used lots of tree leaves gathered last fall for a thick mulch. So we just followed the leaves. We used a flat-tined garden fork to dig down through the leaves and gently lift the potatoes out of the loose soil. The girls were so excited to see the spuds tumbling out. Since I use mainly potato eyes cut out of the potatoes I used all winter, we had a variety in color and texture. All too soon for them we had our quota for our meal.

Then we headed to the yellow wax beans to gather several handfuls. Since they are yellow on green vines they are easily found. The green Kentucky Wonder pole beans were harder to pick. They are green on green plants and, once again, the hot wet weather had made for heavy foliage. And if that was not difficult enough, we had to be careful to get just the right ones—long green slender pods with the little beans inside just beginning to show. Since I like to shell out Kentucky Wonders, there were some more mature beans which we left to turn yellow, just right for shelling.

We added sweet corn to our basket which grew heavy quickly. We chose enough for one ear for each person, then added several extras because there were several growing boys to join our group of a dozen people ages from four to eighty five. Of course there were lots of tomatoes to choose from—cherry, Roma and several big red varieties. We ran out of time to include some carrots and cucumbers since we also had to prepare all the food for the kitchen.

Meanwhile Janice was preparing chuck roast to serve along with the pot of new beans and potatoes. Since she knew her children well, she had boiled some new potatoes in their jackets which turned out to be the hit with the younger set.

All seemed to have a greater appreciation for the food which “came right out of the garden.”

Maybe you don’t have a garden at your house to have such fresh, nutritious food, but you can get some at the Farmers Market held each Thursday after five o’clock. Most of that food is grown in Knox County by farmers eager to furnish it for your enjoyment.


Battling Beatles

Which came first the potato plant or the potato bug or beetle? This well-known beetle, at least to gardeners, is a stout yellow beetle, about one half inch long, is one of the most destructive of the insect pests which attack the potato plant. It may be recognized by its yellow color and its wing covers which have five black stripes. It is thought to have originated in Mexico, crept into the southwest and soon spread all the way to the Atlantic coast.

The adult beetles emerge from the ground in the spring and lay their eggs in yellow clusters on the underside of the leaves. Soon the soft-bodied orange-red larvae hatch and attack the tender leaves of the potato plant. After three weeks of ravenous eating, they drop off, burrow into the ground and emerge as full grown insects about ten days later ready to renew their efforts. There can be two, three, even four broods a season.

So the war between gardener and beetle begins. The pure organic farmer goes out each day and searches very carefully for the adult beetles before they lay their yellow egg clusters. When found they must be carefully and thoroughly terminated. It takes skill to catch them as they are adept at falling down into the dirt and pressure to pinch them. It is also effective to search under each leaf to find the egg cluster and eliminate them. An effective method of extermination is to collect them in a jar and feed them to the chickens. Other natural enemies are the lady bird beetle, toads, frogs, snakes and birds. So help yourself and import a few snakes in your potato patch and encourage them to be helpful.

Kathryn Engle, the Lend-A-Hand Center Grow Appalachia coordinator had a group meeting teaching about garden pests and methods of control. She also handed out spray bottles and organic sprays. Garden stores are also a source of information on how to outwit pests.  There are plans for more informational meetings on methods of harvesting, preserving and selling garden produce.


Summer Heat

July and August are known for hot weather: uncomfortable 90-90 days, high temperatures and high humidity, triple digit heat index and so on. It is a time for air conditioners in buildings and automobiles. Even the schools are air conditioned now days. But what about those of our community that work out doors in nature on farms, in gardens, in the logging industry, etc.

One way to beat the heat is to get an early start; begin just as the sun comes up which is not as early in the day as it sounds with daylight savings time. In our hollows and creek area it usually gets quite cool after the sun goes down and stays fairly cool until noon the next day. But by afternoon, until the sun goes behind the mountain, it can get unbearably hot. So get out in the early morning but there are several drawbacks to that plan because of the heavy dew and sometimes fog. It is almost impossible to harvest hay and even mow lawn or run the weedeaters when the grass is wet.

It is also difficult to work in the garden when the plants are heavy with dew. In fact it is not good for the bean plants to be handled while wet. It is thought the bean plant and the bean fruit will get rust spots. Picking corn with wet leaves slapping your face is not really enjoyable either. So that means the best time to accomplish most outside work in the hot summer months is in the evening; a plus since daylight savings time does give us a couple of hours after the heat of the day. Maybe a good solution is to pick the garden late in the day and process it like canning and freezing the next morning if you are a stay-at-home person.

But then comes another problem: the insects, including mosquitoes, gnats, wasps, flies of all kinds from tiny ones that you can barely see to river flies, horse flies and green headed ones and so on. All of these are swarming especially in the morning hours. One of the worst pests early in the morning is the gnats—the no -see’ums—a small, biting two-winged fly. They not only make life mighty uncomfortable at the time but the bite itches for several days which leads to scratching which can lead to infected sores which just keeps on itching. So we usually resort to insect repellents and the stores carry a wide variety of them. Some of them even smell good. One trouble with that is the sweat sometime washes them in your eyes.

In the days when I taught in the one-room school gnats were a real problem. One way we battled that problem was with a gnat smoke. We would have a piece of denim pants smoldering at one, two or all corners depending on the wind. It was a skill to get the cloth to smoke without burning up. Most of todays material would not work but those old jeans or rugs could set off a good smoke for several hours. Being an outdoor person can also have its problems.