Sunday, July 30, 2017

Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays

Cucumber beetle
Sunday, July 30, 2017

There are good bugs and then there are the bugs that eat up your harvest or give your plants diseases.  You have to be extremely careful in applying any insecticides (bug killers) as they will kill off the beneficial insects (like bees) that pollinate your veggies and increase your harvests.

The best approach is to let nature take its course.  If you have bad bugs, the good bugs will quickly follow and provide equilibrium in the garden.  When I went organic, there was significant reductions in bad bug pressure by the second year.  I did several things to help accelerate the balance.  I purchased good bugs to release in the garden, planted flowers that deter bad bugs and attract pollinators, applied milky spore strategically, attracted birds to the garden, and used natural sprays and powders judiciously as a last resort judiciously.

You can purchase beneficial insects via mail order or some nurseries carry them.  If you go this route, be sure to release them immediately.  If ordering on line, be sure that you will be at home when they are delivered so that you can get them released that day.
Edible garden filled with returning zinnias and sunflowers
You can encourage good bugs by planting flowers either around your vegetable patch or actually with your vegetables.  I have my vegetable garden actually in my flower garden.  Marigolds are a bad bug deterrent so I added these all around the flower beds.  My flower garden is in bloom from spring all the way through fall.  Many varieties are also edible like the day-lilies, borage, and roses. 
Flowers that are edible

To encourage birds to your yard plant trees, shrubs and flowers that attract birds.  Keeping a bird bath with shrubs nearby so the birds can hide in the shrubs is a great way to get birds into your yard.  We also have a bird feeder that keeps a steady stream of birds at the edge of our garden.  We get an occasional peck on the tomatoes, but this is minor compared to the entertainment of watching the birds and their help in pest control!
Chickens free ranging
This year we also got chicks in April and keets in June.  We let the chickens free range in the evening.  We tried letting them go on their own, but they quickly discovered the garden and how tasty squash and tomatoes were!  Now we only let them out when we can watch them.  The guineas are not yet old enough to let free range.  They are reported to not touch the veggies and love insects so we will give them a try in about another month.
Using a garden hose to dose down the insects can be a good strategy; just make sure that you are not watering a plant’s leaves that are susceptible to fungal diseases such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, roses or peonies.  

Manual removal of bad bugs can be very effective.  Just go insect and catepillar hunting and pull off the insects and throw them into a bowl with soap and water.

For Japanese beetles, I use an attractor that is quite a distance from the vegetable garden.  They love roses so I go hunting for them on our roses every day.  We also applied milky spore to keep the grub population down around the roses so we have fewer adults in the summer.  Milky spore is a microscopic bacteria that takes a couple of years to be effective so get started today.  I saw a huge difference in the Japanese beetle population by applying milky spore around my roses.  I am not seeing many Japanese beetles in my garden now so I am not using an attractor.

For ants, you have to control the aphids.  A recipe for catching the ants and aphids:  2 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water in a gallon jug with a lid.  Drill 3 small holes in the lid, large enough for the ants and aphids, but too small for a little bee.  Place in trouble areas.

One non-chemical approach I really like is diatomaceous earth.  It is a white powder of tiny aquatic fossils.  The fossils have tiny rough edges that we cannot feel or see, but cut the insects outer "skin" causing dehydration and killing the insect.  Again, DE doesn't know a good from bad bug so use carefully.  I would use DE only sparingly and not on any flowering plants to spare the bees.

If you are unfortunate enough to have grasshoppers, DE is a good option.  Here is a link to other strategies for these ancient pests  Natural control of grasshoppers

Lately, I have had extensive caterpillar pressure on my sprouting broccoli plants (last year they were also very happy on all my broccoli plants).  I tried the "let my garden come into balance" but that hasn't yielded results.  I have tried the caterpillar hunting, but am still seeing my sprouting broccoli be ravished.  The best thing to have done was to not grow any broccoli plants this year so that their favorite food would not be around.  These plants came back in their pots this year from last year.  Crop rotation is key to keeping pests at a minimum!  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens

For caterpillars, BT dust is a good option.  The caterpillars ingest it as they are eating the plant and they eventually die.  This is my next move!  Make sure to dust the undersides of leaves so that first rain or dew wash off the dust.  You can get a "puffer" that you can put powder in to dust the undersides.  You just fill it up and compress the container and it "puffs" out the dust.  Much easier than turning each leaf upside down to dust!  I bought mine on Amazon and it was called "pest pistol mini duster".  I imagine it is going to take a few rounds to get them under control.

Here are some make your own insect deterrents.  Make sure you test on a few leaves to insure that it won’t adversely affect the plant you are trying to protect.
All purpose spray.  1 garlic bulb, 1 onion, 1 teas dry cayenne pepper, 1 teas liquid soap, 1 quart of water.  Mix water, garlic, pepper and onion together in a food processer, let steep an hour or so, drain through cheesecloth, add liquid soap and you are ready to spray away!
Hot pepper spray.  Good for repelling insects, squirrels, rabbits, and other curious mammals.  1 cup of hot peppers in a quart of water.  Mix in food processor, strain through a cheesecloth and you are ready to use.  Be careful to not get the liquid on your hands and then touch your eyes or mouth.  It will burn.
Tomato-leaf spray.  This is toxic to soft bodied insects like aphids.  It also attracts beneficial wasps.  Take the leaves off the bottom of your tomato plant, 2 cups.  Put in food processor with 1.5 quarts of water.  Let steep overnight, strain out leaves.  Spray on affected leaves, especially the undersides where they like to hide.

If you are just overrun with the bad bugs, you can look on OMRI web site to see what the organic insecticides are:  I use Safer Insecticidal Soap, Neem Oil, and Bt for my indoor plants.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

August 2017 Edible Garden Planner

August bounty
Saturday, July 29, 2017

August sees the full production of the summer garden harvests.  Late sweet corn (plant corn in succession and different varieties to lengthen the harvest), summer squashes (like zucchini and straightneck), peppers of all types (sweet to hot, hot), tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs, cucumbers, okra, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, beans, melons, figs, eggplant, honey, artichokes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, onion, tomatillos, and fennel are all in season right now.  

A secret to maximizing your peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, and zucchinis is to harvest them continously.  A plant’s driving force is to reproduce so by continuing to harvest, it causes the plant to put on more fruits.  There are many options to preserve the extras: Freezing the extras for winter, drying Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies, canning Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty, and pickling Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix.

Continue to fertilize with a natural, organic fertilizer every month for veggies in the ground and semiweekly for those in containers.  When fertilizing, scratch the fertilizer into the soil around the plant.  If you leave the fertilizer on top of the ground, you will need twice as much as the nitrogen will off gas into the atmosphere if not covered.

Keeping consistent moisture to your plants is key.  Irregular watering causes tomatoes to crack.  Make sure your garden is getting water weekly either from rain or watering, being sure to water deeply at the base of the plant and not on the leaves.  Many warm weather lovers like squash, tomatoes and cucumbers are susceptible to fungal diseases.

If you had any lettuce from early planting, they will have bolted by now.  Take the flower heads off and save the seed.  You can shake the seeds into your self watering pots to get your fall lettuce growing.

Planting for fall and winter vegetables
I know it sounds crazy, but now is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests.  You need to plant early enough for your veggies to be full size when frosts hit.  Add 14 days to the days to maturity listed on the seed packet and back it up from your last frost date.  

Daylight hours determine the growth rate of plants.  Since the days are getting shorter, it will take longer for the plants to come to full maturity in the waning daylight hours of fall than the lengthening hours of spring.  By the first of November, all growth has come to a full standstill until the beginning of January.

If you can't pick up transplants like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, and herbs at big box stores or a local nursery, you can get transplants from on line nurseries.  Farmers markets may also have them.

Fall planting guide for cool season crops
August is the month for the rest of the greens (arugula, corn salad, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, spinach, mustard, endive), kohlrabi, onions, scallions, cabbage plants, radishes, peas, fava beans and turnips.  

In September, plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  October is the month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......

For more details on varieties to plant, Time to plant for fall and winter harvests!

Caring for your new seeds and transplants
Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep seeds and transplants moist until they get their first real set of leaves and are well established.  Then water as needed.

Many crops you can harvest into December and beyond, depending on how cold fall is.  Some get sweeter with some frost, like carrots, chard, and lettuce.  With cover, you can harvest all the way through winter!

A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year.  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Time to plant for fall and winter harvests!

Fall cabbage
Sunday, July 23, 2017

It may seem crazy to be sowing seeds in July for your fall and winter garden, but it is the time to do so.  Everything you can grow for spring, you can grow for fall.  For winter harvests, just look for cold hardy varieties.  

September until your first frost is high time in the garden.  Your summer veggies will still be producing at the same time your cool season crops can be harvested.

The trick to harvesting all fall and winter is to have your veggies to full size by mid-October.  With the shorter days of late fall and winter, your plants will not grow much after mid-October through mid-February.

The change I make from spring to fall plantings is for spring, I plant those varieties that are heat tolerant.  In the fall, I plant those varieties that are cold tolerant to extend the harvest as long as possible into winter.  Depending on the severity of the winter, many cold tolerant varieties revive in the spring and provide a really early, nice harvest surprise.

Because daylight hours are getting shorter in the fall, you will need to add about 2 weeks to the “Days to Harvest” your seed packet gives as the seed packet dates are based on spring planting.  Plants grow slower in fall because the days are getting shorter instead of longer.  Frost date look up

Just like in spring, seeds have to be kept moist to sprout.  You can also plant the seeds in peat pots or you can reuse the plastic annual trays you got in the spring.  You can put the plastic trays in a water catch pan, find a shady spot convenient to watering, fill with seed starting mix, sow your seeds and keep moist.  When the seedlings get their true leaves on them (second set), they are ready to transplant into the garden or a larger pot.

There are some veggies that the temps are too high to germinate in our Zone 6, like lettuce.  These you will have to start inside or on the cool side of the house in the shade.  

Good choices for fall planting:
Root crops-Beets, Burdock, Carrots, Celeriac, Kohlrabi, Parsnips. Radishes, Root Parsley, Rutabaga, Salsify, Scorzonera, Turnips
Greens-Chard, Lettuce, Mustard, Collards, Chicory, Kale  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens
Brassicas-Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower  Broccoli and cauliflower growing tips

Choose varieties that have terms like cold hardy, frost tolerant, overwintering to extend your season into early winter.

Fall garden
Below are some general planting times for cool season crops for our Zone 6/7 garden:
Beets, carrots, Asian greens (pak choi, tat-soi), cilantro, collard greens, endive, escarole, frisee, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard, onions, parsnips, scallions, and Swiss chard.  Use transplants for broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage.
The rest of the greens (arugula, corn salad, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, spinach, mustard, endive), kohlrabi, onions, snap peas, scallions, cabbage plants, radishes, and turnips.  Peas and Fava beans can be planted in August for spring harvests in Zone 6 or higher.  
Plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  September is also a great month for starting perennial veggies, fruits, and herbs as well as flowers, trees and shrubs.  Midwest Perennial Vegetable Garden
The month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.  Order your favorites early as many sell out quick.

If you don’t want to start seeds, some big box stores and local nurseries have begun to have fall planting veggies.   If none in your area do, there are many mail order seed companies that carry fall bedding plants.  Late August, early September is the best time to get transplants into the garden for fall and winter harvests.

With cover, the following will allow you to harvest all winter: arugula, beets, chicory, corn salad, lettuce, mustard greens, parsley root, radicchio, radishes, spinach, and swiss chard.
Potted winter lettuce and greens in mini greenhouse
The following don’t require covering: brussels sprouts, winter harvest cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, bunching onions or Egyptian onions, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips.

Fall and winter harvested veggies are at their crispest and sweetest after a light frost.  The cold temps concentrate the sugars, making them extra yummy!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Growing beans

Beans on trellis in background
Saturday July 22, 2017

Beans have been cultivated for thousands of years all around the world.  Fave type beans hail from the Old World while the types used for dry and green beans are from the New World.  Pole beans were part of the Three Sisters of Native Americans along with squash and corn.  Not only do they taste great, but they add nitrogen to the soil and are easy to "put away" for winter eating.  

Beans love sun, well drained soil, and a side dressing of fertilizer or compost when planted.  Don't get carried away with fertilizer during the growing season or you will have all greenery and no pods.  Be sure to not water the foliage; stick with watering at the ground to avoid fusarium wilt.

Beans are part of the legumes which include fava beans, shell beans (like the popular red, kidney, Great Northern beans), green beans, lima beans, peanuts, lentils, and soybeans.  Legumes have some of the highest protein in the plant world.  When combined with grains, you get a complete protein like you do from meat or eggs.  Raw bean nutritional info

When you plant beans, be sure to use a rhizobial bacteria inoculant.  You just moisten the seed and coat with the rhizobial powder and plant.  Nitrogen accumulates on the roots of the legume.  Just be sure to not pull the plant when you are done harvesting from it so that the nitrogen stays in the soil!

Beans are summer crops and there are many bush and pole varieties.  Bush varieties come into bear just before pole types and usually have one major flush of beans.  Pole beans produce continuously all summer to frost.  Both require soil temps of at least 60 degrees F.  Plant 1” deep and as close as 4” apart for pole types and 12” apart for bush types.  Seedlings emerge in 7-14 days.
Trellis completely covered in pole beans
The vining types typically grow to 8 foot long so a trellis is needed.  If you don't have a trellis that tall, just snip the vine when it gets to the top of the trellis or just let them fall over.  They will do just fine that way, just makes it a treasure hunt to find the beans!  I think the most efficient trellis design is one that you can tilt over.  Then the weight of the beans will cause them to hang down, making them a breeze to pick.  If you have the room for this design (you can use one that you can lean against a building), just be sure that it is situated so the vine greenery gets maximum sun.

I grow ours on a 5 foot trellis.  This year I just let them go and the vines are probably at least 10 feet long. they have grown up and then fallen over and are down to the ground and snaking out to find other stalks to vine onto.  They are very happy this year!

Beans can also be grown in either pots or in the ground.  Since beans are growing during the hotter time of year, watering is important to keep them productive.  Just be sure to not water the foliage.  Beans can produce over a long period of time.  To keep them making beans, be sure to harvest frequently.

Runner bean pods are edible and produce beautiful flowers in red, white or peach.  They are also a perennial in warmer parts of the country.  If you harvest just when the bean seeds begin to swell, you can eat as snap beans.  If you wait, you can dry and eat the bean seeds like any dried bean.

I prefer to grow the “stringless” types so I don’t have to remove the string when I put them up.  Most varieties grown today are stringless if harvested on time.  I freeze my beans since I don’t have enough space to have a huge number of plants.  By freezing, I can harvest every other day and just add the new ones to the freezer bag.  Freezing the extras for winter  If you decide you want to can beans, you'll need a pressure canner as green beans are low acid veggies.  You can pickle beans with just a big pot.  Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty If you are growing storage beans, just be sure they have dried thoroughly before storing in something like a Mason jar so they don't mold.
Purple podded bean
You get the most beans from those that you eat the whole bean versus shelling type beans.  So, if space is limited, "green bean" types are the best.  I am trying Lima beans and storage beans this year, too.  Both have been flowering, but I have gotten no Lima beans and only a few storage bean pods.  The green bean plants are pumping out the beans!

I like the Romano type beans, the ones that are large and flat.  I also grow the runner beans for their flowers and harvest early for snap beans. The varieties I am growing are vine types-Romano II, Scarlet Runner, Golden Sunshine Runner, Purple Podded and Bean Blauhilde and storage beans-Portal Jade, Good Mother Stollard and King of the Garden lima beans. 

All my vining bean plants look beautiful this year.  I have just now starting watering the garden.  The rule of thumb I use for gardening is that the garden should get a deep watering once a week.  If we haven't gotten a nice drenching rain in more than a week, then I water.  We have a drip hose that runs throughout the garden bed that is covered by mulch.  This keeps the moisture going into the ground instead of evaporating.  Summer garden tips

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Preservation garden

Sunday, July 16, 2017

If you are interested in being more self-sufficient, to have nutritious food at the ready, reduce your food bill or just want to save the extras from the garden this year, there are simple ways to preserve many different crops from the garden: freezing Freezing the extras for winter, drying Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies, canning Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty, and pickling.

I only do canning of high acid vegetables like tomatoes or pickling so only a large pot is needed.  If you decide to can low acid vegetables, then a high pressure canner is needed.  Sites & resources for canning

Crops that are easy to put away for year round eating:
Beets, Basil, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Green Beans, Greens, Herbs, Onions, Peas and Snow Peas, Peppers, Tomatoes and Squash.

The easiest to start with are herbs.  Spices are very expensive in the store.  Herbs are carefree and produce alot that can be dried or frozen to use year round.  My 2 favorites are making pesto from basil (Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil) and using a variety of dried herbs to make “Herbes De Provence” (Make your own "Herbes de Provence") that I add to almost every dish!  Since most herbs are from the Mediterranean region, they thrive in mediocre soil and dry conditions.  Start a kitchen herb garden!

For spring and fall planting for a preservation garden
Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, garlic, greens, cool season herbs like cilantro and parsley, onions, peas, potatoes and snow peas.

Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, greens, and snow peas should be blanched and then frozen.  Blanching stops the degradation of the vegetable in the freezer, increasing the shelf life to months.  Blanching simply means putting into boiling water and then immediately into ice water or very cold water to stop the cooking of the vegetable.  For the bigger veggies, 3 minutes in boiling water is sufficient.  For greens, just a couple of minutes.  After blanching, remove the excess water.  I like to then put on a cookie sheet in the freezer in a single layer.  After freezing, I put in freezer bags.  This way your veggies will defrost quicker and you can remove only what you want to use for that meal.  If just put directly into the freezer bag, they will all freeze together in one big block.

You can also dry any vegetable, store in a sealed jar, and rehydrate when needed for cooking.  The trick is to make sure that they are dried enough that they will not mold.  If in doubt, your dried produce can be stored in the frig or freezer, taking up much less room than the whole vegetable.

I also like to grow sprouting broccoli as it can be harvested from for 8 months of the year.  Carrots and onions can be left in the ground over the winter and pulled when needed.  My favorite onion to grow is Egyptian walking onion.  It produces a small bulb that is just the right size for using for one meal.  It can be grown in a pot, too.  Egyptian walking onions

Garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in mid summer.  There are 3 ways I preserve garlic.  One is to harden off and keep several garlic bulbs to use fresh.  The second is to separate the cloves and put into vinegar with peppers.  I store these jars in the refrigerator.  This preserves the garlic and adds a little kick.  The third is to dry some garlic cloves to make garlic powder.  Quick tip-make dried garlic into garlic powder

Preserving the garden's bounty
For summer planting of a preservation garden: 
Corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, warm season herbs like basil and rosemary, peppers, squash.

I don't blanch my summer vegetables before freezing.  If you want to keep them in the freezer longer than 4-6 months, blanching is the best way to go.  For small peppers, I freeze them whole. Peppers a Plenty in September  Large peppers and all tomatoes, I slice and freeze.   As the tomato harvest heats up, any that we can't eat, I freeze.  Come fall when it cools off, I will take all of last year's frozen tomatoes and make into sauce.  A few tomato plants give us enough to freeze and make sauce for the coming year.  Preserving the tomato harvest 

  For peppers, I also make hot sauce Quick tip-make your own hot sauce and dry them to make chili powders.

For eggplant and squash, I like to freeze them whole.  When I am ready to eat them, I slice them while frozen and grill.  If you are going to use them in recipes, I would cut them into the size you want to use in your recipes, blanch and freeze.  What to do with all that zucchini?!   

Green beans, I break into the size I will use in my recipes and freeze.  Cucumbers I make into pickles.  Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix  For corn, the easiest way to store is just blanching the whole ear of corn.  After removing the silks, you can either freeze whole or slice off the cob and freeze the kernels.

All your summer vegetables can be dried as well.  

Now you are ready to eat fresh and preserve the extras to get you through to next year's garden!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

What's happening in the mid July garden

July garden at sunset

Saturday, July 15, 2017

We are harvesting Turkish Orange eggplants, zucchini, yellow straight neck squash, peppers, green beans, sprouting broccoli, summer greens, okra, herbs, garlic, onions, and a few tomatoes.   We have been getting steady amounts of rainfall each week so only the pots are needed water.  The flowers are very happy, too! 

This year's garden is the fullest it has ever been.  Really not sure why.  We did the usual spring garden preparation-compost, fertilizer, Azomite minerals, topped with mulch.  Many are saying that their garden is going gangbusters, with the exception of tomatoes.  They are very slow this year and not as bushy.

In the photo above, the background are the pole beans on a trellis, in the foreground are peppers in pots with volunteer zinnias and carrots from last year.  If you don't pull your carrots, the bolt and produce the white flowers you see in the photo.  The seeds will drop in the garden and we will have baby carrots for the fall and winter.  So, when you grow carrots, pull some and leave a few for flowers and self-seeding.  All you need to know about growing carrots

Both the hot and sweet pepper plants have peppers on them.  So far, the sweet pepper Tangerine is the only one with ripe peppers for harvest.  Most of the hot Sicilian pepper plants are covered in green peppers so it should not be long for them.  Peppers are for every taste and garden

Tomatoes are not producing as much as is typical for this time of the month.  We have gotten way more rain than usual this year.  Our grass is still green and lush!  The small tomatoes have given us a few ripe ones.  The plants greenery are not as full as normal and have had baby tomatoes on them for weeks.  Peppers and tomatoes are both pollinating by insects.  With all the rain we have had again this summer, it is likely washing away the pollen, impacting the production of fruits.  

Oregano in bloom
I harvested our garlic a couple of weeks ago and is getting hardening in the shade on our outdoor, covered deck.  Garlic harvest is here!

Our basil has been slow to get started but is now off to the races.  I will take my first harvest in the next week or two, cutting down to the first few sets of leaves.  It will regrow to give me at least one more good harvest before fall.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil  I  have many cardinal basil volunteer plants growing.  They are tiny right now.  Looks like this type is a self-seeder.  Self-seeding crops, plant once and forget 'em

Oregano is in full bloom.  The bees love the flowers!  It could be cut and dried now, but I love the flowers and will wait until fall.  Harvest and preserve your herbs

Lettuce gone to seed
I fertilized all the pots again as well as the veggies in the garden.  It is good to fertilize pots biweekly and garden plants monthly during the growing season to give them the nutrition they need to produce well. Summer garden tips
The lettuce has gone to seed.  When you see the white fuzzies, they are ready to save.  I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator.  I also re-seeded our Earth boxes with some of the seeds.  I had a few small volunteer lettuce plants elsewhere in the garden that I transplanted to the Earth boxes as well.  The lettuce seeds I planted last month have sprouted, but aren’t quit ready to transplant.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

In the greens department, summer is a hard time for most greens.  Sprouting broccoli, different types of sorrel, arugula, dandelion greens, corn salad and herbs are all available.  The heat increases the sharpness of greens.  Succession planting of lettuce and planting types that are resistant to bolting can keep your lettuce crop going.  Plant them in the coolest part of the yard where they are not in full sun all day and get shade in the afternoon.  Pots are a good option to be able to move them to the cooler part of the yard.  Growing summer salads  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

Our summer squash plants have kicked in and we were getting 1-2 fruits from each plant each week.  I just love grilled zucchini and summer squash!  I also found that using it as a substitute for pasta is a great way to use them.  What to do with all that zucchini?!  It looks like the vine borer got my zucchini so I'll start another one from seed.  Planting before June 1 makes the plants susceptible, but they grow quickly from seed to replace if that happens.  Everything you need to know to grow squash

We have not had any rain in the last week so I will water the garden.  We have a soaker hose that runs under the mulch, making watering easy.  If you are watering by hand, just be careful not to get the leaves wet.  Many plants are susceptible to fungal diseases.  

Summer garden is in full swing!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Top 10 Tomato Myths

Tomato plant interplanted in the flower garden
Sunday, July 9, 2017

Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable to grow in the United States.  There is nothing like a tomato ripe from the vine!  Many people started gardening by way of the tomato.  They were the very first vegetable we grew.  Many gardeners have the techniques they swear by to get the biggest and best tomatoes.  Here are some tales that are not necessarily true.
  1. Tomatoes love as much sun as possible!  This depends on where you live.  In very hot climates, 6-8 hours is plenty.  Your tomatoes can actually scald in intense sun and heat.  For hot climates, plant your tomatoes in a north to south row so each side gets some shade each day.
  2. You should prune your tomatoes for the best harvests.  This again depends on your climate.  If you live in a hot climate with intense sun and heat, you want to keep the leaves to help protect the tomatoes from sun scald.  If you live in a damp area, you want to prune the tomato plant to allow good air circulation and sunlight.  Tomatoes 101, everything you need to know to grow great tomatoes
  3. Tomatoes love fertilizer!  Actually, you only want to fertilize when you plant and again when the plant flowers.  Too much nitrogen encourages leaf growth.  Some that really sock the fertilizer to the plant end up with a giant green plant with no tomatoes.  To help with flowering, fruiting and blossom end rot, be sure to get a fertilizer with plenty of phosphorous and calcium.  Summer garden tips
  4. Tomatoes can’t be grown in pots.  Tomatoes can be grown in pots, but not the big tomato plants.  Look for dwarf, pot, or patio types in the seed packet or seedling description.  You will need to put in a large pot and be prepared to water often.  Compact tomatoes for small spaces and pots
  5. Tomatoes need to be watered a lot.  Actually, if you water your tomatoes a lot, you can end up with fungal diseases and mushy fruit.  The trick with tomatoes is to keep their moisture even.  Letting the ground crack and then drowning the plant will result in cracked fruit.  In the hot times of the summer, you will likely need to water at least weekly.  Be sure to not water the leaves, but the root.
  6. When you see leaves dropping, something is wrong.  This is a natural progression of the plant.  As fruits begin to form, there is less energy for the leaves and some leaves will turn yellow and die.
  7. A spindly tomato transplant is a bad one.  Actually the hairs on the stems can easily be transformed into roots.  I take my transplants and remove the bottom leaves and plant on its side with only the top 4 leaves above ground.  This gives the plant a good root system.
  8. You can only transplant in early summer. Y Actually, if your tomato plants are starting to fade in mid summer, you can put out new transplants that will give you fruit until the first frost.
  9. When you make sauce, the skins and seeds have to be removed.  I put whole tomatoes into the food processor.  Some say that the skin and seeds can impart a bitter flavor.  With the many types of tomatoes I have raised, this has never been a problem for me.  Preserving the tomato harvest
  10. Only paste tomatoes can be used for sauce.  I use all my tomatoes for sauce.  The best for sauce for me are the most prolific tomato plants.  These have been Yellow Pear and Juliet for us.  I would ask your neighbors which ones give the most fruit if you are looking to put up by freezing or canning.  The consideration for paste tomatoes is that they have more meat and less juice than most other tomatoes so less boiling to get a thick sauce.  Choosing which tomatoes to grow
Last tip:  Tomatoes are susceptible to fungal diseases.  Do try to not plant your tomatoes in the same spot for four years.  Fungal diseases stay in the soil and take a while to die out.  It is best to rotate your tomatoes in the garden each year.  The same goes for a pot.  A way around it for a pot is to use new soil and disinfect the pot each year.  Crop rotation made easy for small gardens

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Growing and harvesting okra

Early July garden with okra and zinnias in the background, chard in the foreground
Saturday, July 8, 2017

Growing okra in the garden is a Southern tradition.  Okra is easy to grown and looks pretty cool, too.  The flowers are reminiscent of hibiscus flowers.  It is a tropical perennial but grown as an annual in zones further north.  They love the heat and are doing great in our Zone 7 garden this year.  

There is much debate about the origins of okra.  Ethiopia, West Africa and Southeast Asia all claim ownership its origin.  Wherever it originated, it came through Egypt to Ethiopia to Arabia and on to the Mediterranean region as far back as the 1100's.  It came to the Americas in the 1600's, landing in North America in the early 1700's.  

Okra is a good source of manganese, magnesium, fiber and vitamins C, K, thiamin, B6 and folate.  okra nutritional info

 This year, I am growing 2 varieties of okra, Red Burgundy and Candle Fire.  I started harvesting from both this past week.  Guess they are like tomatoes, can expect fruits around the 4th of July.  They will produce until frost.  I am getting several off each plant.  You don't need many plants with this long of a season!
Okra flower

Like all veggies, harvesting them keeps them producing more for you.  For okra, you want to harvest them when tender.  They get hard and fibrous quickly so if in doubt, pick them.  I read to harvest them between 2-4" in length.  For the green podded variety, this may be correct.  On the red pods, I have harvesting pods that are 6" long and they are nice and tender.  Typically, you can pick 4-6 days after the flower dies and the pod emerges.  Use a knife to cut the stem of the pod.  Some okra plants have spines.  If yours does, wear gloves when handling them; the spines can cause irritation.
Dwarf okra plant in foreground

They are even tasty eating right off the plant raw.  To preserve them, I am chopping them into slices and putting into freezer bags.

Okra is a key ingredient in gumbo.  It can be used as a thickener in any recipe.

For growing, I started mine from seed then transplanted after all danger of frost had passed, giving 2 feet between plants.  They can also be started directly in the garden or in a pot.  Plants are available at many big box stores or nurseries.  I fertilized with a natural fertilizer and also added Azomite for minerals 10 days after planting.  I fertilized again last month.  I will fertilize monthly while they are producing.  You can buy natural fertilizer or make your own from just a few ingredients.  I either make my own or use Espoma Garden-Tone, Tomato-Tone or Plant-Tone.  Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive

Okra needs about an inch of water each week.  If you are not getting rain, be sure to do a deep watering each week.  If growing dwarf varieties in a pot without a water reservoir, you will likely need to water twice a week.  With a reservoir, weekly will likely be sufficient.  Summer garden tips

Baby red okras
So far, there have been no real pests although aphids, stink bugs and corn earworms are known to like them and they can succumb to fusarium wilt.  I have planted the dwarf varieties and they are about 2-3' tall.  The regular types can grow to 6.5' tall.