Autumn Musings – What worked & didn’t this year – part 4 of 4

As I continue reflecting on the garden year so far we did have some great harvests …

white eggplant
White Eggplant

Eggplants, no water, no problem.

Love the white eggplants.  They look like large duck eggs so not too big and not too small. We got loads, made dishes with them all summer and into fall. Have some cooked and frozen too.  If you have a place with loads of sun and little water, your eggplants will be happy.

If you have an area that gets loads of sun and not much water, consider putting eggplants there. I did water them occasionally, but not that often and they were super happy.

 

over witnered fiesta broccoli
Overwintered Fiesta Broccoli

Overwintered broccoli, hardier than expected.

Wow, just didn’t protect the broccoli plants we got in late.  Yet got a super early broccoli harvest, even with temps down into the single digits off and on for a couple weeks.

Hardier than I expected.. check out Fiesta Broccoli from High Mowing Seeds.

We also grow Belstar and De Ciccio green heading types.

 

Melons, melons, melons!

melon patch
Charentais melon patch looks like there is only one melon
lots of melons
But when we looked under the leaves, we had about 8 per plant.

Remember when I didn’t water the potatoes and got no harvest.  Well, the opposite happened with the melons this year.  Both melon patches were in places that got watered allot and we had loads of melons.  Water folks, plants love it.

That is all my Autumn musings for now.  If more useful lessons come to mind, I’ll be sure to pass them on.  For now, happy gardneing and check out all our resources if you haven’t yet.  – Debby

 

Autumn Musings – What worked & didn’t this year – part 3 of 4

Okay, folks, here are some things that did work this year.

dried christmas lima beans
Dried christmas lima beans. The bowl of beans in the photo is about 1/16th of the number we have gotten.

Lets go back to those pole beans, they were Christmas Limas, one of our favorites. We got LOADS, I am seriously so many beans.  We have had five means from them, have enough for another 8 or so meals of them fresh and a half gallon dried for winter.  So .. eve thought we had to repair the deer fence – we got load of luscious beans!

 

fresh lima beans
Freadh Christmas lima beans
colors of christmas limas
Ripening progression of Christmas lima beans. Left are the youngest. Right are dried.

 

Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato vine.

Tomatoes! Have you ever been sick of too many fresh tomatoes? I didn’t think it was possible, but it is. Gratefully, everyone loves them, so they are easy to give away.

Have been experimenting with pruning the last few years and have gotten it to keeping two to three leaders and pinching out the suckers.  One leader – they were too tall to harvest.  Not pruning enough suckers and they didn’t get enough air flow so we got diseases.

 

 

Crispers packed with tomatoes

Autumn Musings – What worked & didn’t this year – part 2 of 4

Hi everyone,

Continuing my consideration on what didn’t work so well this year. There were a couple things I really did know, but life and laziness can sometimes happen to not such good outcomes.  A couple of these lessons are:

3.Blowing off watering potatoes. Okay, they were in the back, the farthest away from the water and I just got lazy, didn’t want to drag a hose back there, my bad since we got no potatoes. They have always been a super simple crop, but like other plants, when it doesn’t rain for a month, they need water.

Lesson: Water, duh, don’t get lazy about it if you want potatoes.

Was so bad, there was nothing to photo, but here is an inspirational one from a normal harvest.. buckets fo potaotes

4.Getting plants in late.  So this year, it took a long time to get some of the garden beds cleaned out and so some of the pepper plants went in super late.  They were just getting going pumping out peppers when it was time to pull them out to make room for fall and winter crops.  Granted, lack of rain for a month didn’t help.

Lesson: If life happens and it gets late, if you have your plants already, perhaps have grown them yourself like I have, then you’ll want to plant to leave them as long as possible and potentially forgo using that bed for fall and winter, or know you’ll get less of a crop. If you don’t have your plants yet, consider short days-to-maturity varieties to get your fall and winter garden in on time.

Late pepper harvest

More musings to come .. have a great day .. Debby

 

 

Autumn Musings – What worked & didn’t this year – part 1 of 4

Hi folks,

Sitting in my office on a Tuesday in autumn, I begin reflecting on the passing gardening year.  As I consider what worked and what didn’t, it occured to me there are lessons here that may be useful for you so here you go …

What didn’t work:

1.Pole beans too close to the deer fence. Yikes, the pole beans grew over 15 feet and jumped onto the deer fence, seems okay, until a big wind storm came. The weight of the beans took down a section of deer fence in a big wind.

deer fence down inside garden
Deer fence caved in toward the garden
deer fence down outside
Bent deer fence from outside the garden

Lesson: keep space between your pole beans and fence, or trim pole beans away from fence.

2. Watch the last day of school. If your garden is accessible, hang out there the last day of school. Had someone/s throw spring cabbages around the garden the evening of the last of school at a display garden I manage.  It was heartbreaking to see them all over the garden, such  a waste of food. There was vandalism all over the area, which is normally very safe and benign.  Several folks said it was Jr. High boys.  This is a good reason to get your children and grandchildren involed in growing food and understanding what goes into food production, so they have respect and don’t waste.

spring cabbage
Spring Cabbage Bed, small sized, short Days-to-maturity types

 

Vandalized cabbage
Vandalized cabbage were all over the garden …
cabbage on top of 12 foot tomato cage
They even threw them on top of the 10′ cage we have to protect tomatoes from birds

Lesson: If your garden is accessable on known potential vandalism days, like the last day of school, shedule a pot luck, or hang out there, or rotate folks being in the garden into the evening.

Check back for the more lessons from this year and have an awesome day! Debby

Keeping Track of Your Seeds

hands holding seeds Bet there are some of you out there who are seed freaks like me.  Can’t wait for the next seed catalog, find yourself trolling through seed websites, seeming to always be looking for the next thing you want to grow.

Then what do you do when you do order your seeds, and don’t use the whole packet?  Do they go in a drawer, or bag in a big jumble?  Oh, then sometime later, you find some other seeds you just have to confused woman get, and those packets get put, well, on the kitchen table, a pocket in your garden bag, in a jar – somewhere!

It is time to plant and you were absolutely sure you got that variety, but darn it, can’t find it, quick buy more.  A month later, oh there are those seeds I knew I bought, darn, I double bought and now have more than I need.

I confess to have done all the above!

The answer is coming up with a seed inventory system that works for you.  It can be simple or complex, depending on how many seeds you have, and what your personal style is.  Make it something that works for you.

I have allot of seeds, I run a seed swap, save seeds, partner with seed companies and did plants sales for years, so having a system became critical to business. You don’t have to be in business to need to organize your seeds.

Here are some tips to create a seed organization system that works for you:

  • Create a spreadsheet, chart, list on your phone, or a notebook to jot down seed orders when they come in.
  • Have one place to put seeds that have not made it onto your inventory yet.
  • Have one place where you store your seeds after they are on your inventory.
  • Create a way to know when you have used up your seeds. I fold my seed packets in half for example.
  • Have a trigger in your system that lets you know when you need to buy more of that variety.
  • And a trigger if you grew something and you don’t want to grow that variety again.
Seed Catalogs
Seed Catalogs

Review your inventory at least once a year.  I like to do it over the winter, and if you have a system in place, it takes much less time, so you can get back to important things, like looking at more seed catalogs and websites 🙂

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Why Growing Dry Beans is So Awesome

holding a bowl of hot vegetable soupDo you love soups in the winter?  I sure do, a pot of soup on the stove heating up the house with its yummy smells filling the air. Dried beans are a must have for winter soups.

Today is a pleasantly cool rainy fall day, perfect for listening to some favorite tunes, enjoying a cup of tea and shelling beans, humming and dancing while the shelled beans pile up in a bowl, ready to be planted next spring and eaten this winter.

When I shell dried beans, I keep some of the biggest, plumpest out for planting the following year.  The rest are put into jars for eating.

There are literally hundreds of varieties of dried beans, so choose the ones you like to eat. Are you into Minestrone soup, then grow Cannellini beans. Into nachos, then grow pinto or black beans.  Love making chili, grow some Kidney beans.   Beyond these pretty well known favorites there are loads of other types to try to make you own unique winter soup.

Christmas Lima Beans
Christmas Lima Beans

A couple lesser known of favorites I like to grow are Vermont Cranberry and Christmas Limas.  Vermont Cranberry is a bush bean, where Christmas Limas are pole beans.  They are both beautiful and both make your soup broth a rich warm burgundy color.

You can find lots of varieties of dried beans that grow as bush beans or pole beans, depending on which you prefer to grow.  I like a bit of both. Bush beans yield faster, but I get a larger harvest from pole beans.  Check the Days to Maturity on the varieties that look interesting to you. This will tell you if you’ll have enough time to grow them until they dry on the plant.  If you are in the south, this is usually not an issue. Northern gardeners whose number of hot summer days are shorter may want to stick to shorter days to maturity bush types.

Dry Beans
Home Grown Dried Beans

When looking at seed catalogs for bean varieties, note that some beans are good both fresh and dried.  This can be a good use of garden space, as you can have a round or two of fresh green beans, then let the rest go for dried beans.  This way you get two types of beans from one plant!

Bon appetit, I’m off to enjoy my first cool weather soup made with home grown beans.

 

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Concurring Cucumber Beetles – Organically

Had a client ask me yesterday about Cucumber Beetles so thought I’d write up this post so you can all benefit form the information too.

I admit, of all the bug type critters I have dealt with in my gardening endeavors, these little buggers have been the hardest to deal with and some of the most prolific. I also admit, I have stopped growing cucumbers because of them.   With those caveats, let look at why these critters are such a challenge.

First, there are two types, striped (Acalymma vittatum/A. trivittatum) and spotted (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi Barber).  This can be confusing, with some folks thinking they are dealing with something other than cucumber beetles.  So, yes, both of these are cucumber beetles:

Spotted and striped cucubmer beetles.

Cucumber beetles attack, yes, cucumbers, but also other members of the Cucurbit plant family that includes summer squash (and zucchini), winter squash and melons.  I have also found that they love, I mean LOVE, Amaranth, both the ornamental and grain type, so we strictly avoid growing all types of Amaranth.  They will really love to eat your Cleome, so we have stopped growing those beauties as well.  They have also been known to munch on beets, beans, peas, sweet potatoes, okra, corn, lettuce, onions, and various cabbages although, gratefully, I have not had them go for these other crops.

These little critters do munch on your plant leaves, but the main issues is that they transmit bacteria that cause Fusarium or Bacterial Wilt and this is what will often kill the plant first.  Adult cucumber beetles can severely defoliate plants and scar fruit. Adults generally reach their peak activity in morning and late afternoon and are fast and pretty hard to catch.  If you do catch them, they have very hard shells so are hard to squish. Don’t try and put them down to step on them like you might a worm, as they’ll fly before you can get them.  If you are able to catch them, put them in soapy water.  All that said, this is not the best way to deal with them.

Cucumber beetle damage

As with handling any pest predation, a good Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy that includes more than one option works best. All the products on this list are OMRI rated for organic use. Not sure what that means, check out this video.

Ways to concur cucumber beetles:

  1. Row cover or growing in completely protected culture in a high tunnel or greenhouse.  I recommend this at the beginning of the season to give your plants a good head start. This client, Kathleen, did this and I am sure this is why her plants have done as well as they have. She also used..
  2. Neem oil spray. Neem can be effective here as it is a wide spectrum killer.  It is also effective against fungal diseases, which is an added benefit. When sprayed on garden plants, it does not leave a lasting residue because it washes away with rain and is broken down by ultraviolet rays. It can kill some beneficial bugs if they are directly sprayed. Most of Neem’s action is from critters biting leaves that have been sprayed with it. Your beneficial insects are carnivores, eating those other bugs who are eating your food.  
  3. Kaolin Clay, or Surround. We love this stuff and use it often. The product name is Surround, which is made from a specially modified Kaolin clay. This forms a barrier that protects plants from many pests. We spray it on and it makes a white barrier not only repels bugs, but causes them irritation, confusion, and is an obstacle for feeding and egg-laying. We have found it very effective against deer too!  The deer look at those ‘white plants’ and don’t think are food.  Like the Neem, you have to keep applying it after rains and as new green growth appears.
  4. Cleaning up. Cucumber beetles will overwinter eggs in the mulch under your plants.  If you have had an infestation, remove all the mulch from the area and don’t even compost it.  Dispose of it off property or burn it, depending on your location. Then you can apply ..
  5. A spray containing Spinosad, like Monterey Garden Insect Spray used to drenchto the soil tokill the larvae before they pupate in the soil can be effective to avoid further infestation in following seasons.  I should mention here, I only see these critters in the warm summer months.
  6. Beneficial insects. Ladybugs, Green Lacewing, Spined Soldier Bugs and Assassin Bugs will all feed on various life stages of cucumber beetles. Attracting and keeping these garden helpers in your garden will not only help keep the cucumber beetle population down, but many other less desirables from eating your food. A few good plants to start with are: yarrow, sunflowers, dill, cilantro and parsley. Makes sure you let the dill, cilantro and parsley go to flower.  
Assassan bug eating a spotted cucumber beetle

7. You can also buy cucumber beetle lures and use these with yellow sticky traps. The lure is effective for 45 days. If the trap becomes covered with insects or other debris before that time, remove the lure and attach it to a fresh trap. One advantage is that these are not a spray and therefore you run less risk of killing other critters you would rather not kill. I confess I have not tried these although it seems a reasonable thing to try and I might get some for the cucumber beetle population currently in my garden. If anyone uses these, let me know how they worked for you.

8. The last option in this article is adding a Heterorhabditis bacteriophora beneficial nematodes to your soil. Nematodes occur naturally in our soil, but we might not have the ones that really like beetle, and specifically cucumber beetle larvae.

So to wrap up, here is my recommended IMP strategy if you have a cucumber beetle infestation:

  1. Spray Neem to get the population down.
  2. Put out lures and traps for adults you have missed or that continue to hatch.
  3. Depending on how diseased and chewed up your plants are, remove them off site or burn them.
  4. Remove all the mulch under where the plants were and spray Monterey Garden Spray heavily into the soil.

Next spring:

  1. Apply beneficial nematodes to your soil.
  2. Use row covers for young plants.
  3. Apply Surround as your plants grow.
  4. Put in plants that attract beneficial insects.

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Have an awesome day and good luck with those cuke beetles! – Debby

Build Your Own Seed Starting Rack

Hi folks, I friend messaged me this week asking if I could recommend a seed starting rack.  She is in Wisconsin, so getting started now with her seed starting.

I confess I have little experience with pre-made seed starting racks and systems. I have been gifted with one, but I don’t like it as well as the one my sweetheart made.

Here is the Materials List:

  • Found plywood, 2×2, 2×4
  • Shop lights
  • Chain
  • Hooks
  • Screws
  • Wire
  • Switch box/s
  • Timer
Know your soil – Free Soil Course 

General process to build your own seed starting rack:

  1. Decide where you want to put your rack. It is best if you can place it in front of a window that gets good light as this will enhance the productivity of your rack.  I can also say, it is really nice if you can place it in a permanent location.  Ours was built with screws so it can be taken down an reassembled, but frankly, since I am four season gardening, I just keep it up.
  2. Consider how much space you need for seed starting. Small scale home gardeners may not need much. My rack holds 14 seed trays and that is not enough for all I grow.  Most folks can get away with one bank of lights which will cover two to four standard sized seed trays.  A double bank will give you space for four or five seed trays.
  3. I prefer to use found wood instead of buying new since so much is thrown out these days. We used wood found in a dumpster in back of a store, and some left over from a job.
  4. Build the thing. It can be as simple or complicated as you make it. I have the advantage of having a partner who is a contractor, so he built and wired switches for me.

The best way to show you how we build it is in photos .. so here you go …

DYI Seed Starting Rack
My homemade three tired seed starting rack – front view.  The rack has three shelves and uses old shop lights. We found some of these in the trash, some were from a friend who was getting rid of them.  Each shelf has two banks of two lights.  I use old fashioned ones to have the heat for summer seedlings.  One cool and one warm in each bank which is less expensive than “grow lights”.

make your own seed starting rack
Outside corner of the rack.

build a place to start seeds
Inside corner.

seed rack height
We used hooks and chain, attached to a bar on the outside of each shop light to raise and lower the lights to accommodate different height plants.

put your seed rack next to a window for more light
Inside where the chain is attached to the rack.

The top bank we just had lights so made a really simple holder.

grow plants from seed
The top bank we hung from the ceiling.

Wiring for switches. We have a switch on each side so we can turn on one set of lights on each bank. This allows us to put the trays in either direction for growth or saving electricity if we don’t need both sets of lights at once in a bank.

how to start seedlings
Bottom who shelves filled. I will sometimes put trays on top of the lights until they germinate to make more room, as in this picture.

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Great Garden Soil

Hi folks,

a raised bed is one choice for your veggie garden
Building awesome living soil in a raised veggie bed

I’ve had several clients and new students ask about garden soil.  It seems many folks that have tried to garden have wanted to quit because their garden didn’t do well.  Most times it turns out it was their soil that was at issue.

Soil is the foundation of our garden and can grow our plants for us.  I have put together a 5 Day Free email course on soil, so you can transform your understanding of good garden soil, to begin to transform your garden.

 

Yes – I want the Free Email Soil Course

5 Proven Steps to Starting Your Veggie Garden

As spring approaches, our thoughts go to gardening. Enjoy this snapshot of my solid step-by-step strategy to start a veggie garden.

Get a Free Workbook to do these 5 Steps: 

Step 1: Your Garden Dream, Vision & Goals

Basket of home grown tomatoes
Basket of home grown tomatoes

For Step 1: it is important to take time to document your garden vision, what goals you have, and your garden as you have dreamed it.  Many folks don’t take the time to document this, so their dream garden becomes a vaporous ‘some day’ vague memory, vs actualizing the manifestation of their dream.

Step 2: Observation & Assessment

To avoid making a mistake on the type, size and location of the garden you put in, take some time to observe your space, light, water and other resources as well as your time. This way you can be sure the garden you put in not only is in the best place, but also fits into your lifestyle, and that is where Step 2, Observation & Assessment comes in.  This is a critical step to be sure you get a garden that will work for you, and hence move you along that success pathway.

Step 3: Building Healthy Living Soil

a raised bed is one choice for your veggie garden
Building awesome living soil in a raised veggie bed

Healthy living soil is the foundation of any garden, so building soil that will support your garden and grow plants for you is Step 3. You probably know that chemical pesticides and fertilizers kill your soil, but did you know that tilling does too?  Tilling allows the carbon in your soil to be released into the atmosphere thereby depleting your soil of it.  This is why commercial conventional growers add fertilizers, because they have, by their actions, depleted it from their soil. The soil becomes nothing more than an anchor for the plants, but it is the life in the soil, that grows healthy lively plants.

Step 4: Choosing Quality Plants & Seeds

locally grown veggie plants
Get chemical-free plants

Step 4 is choosing quality plants and seeds for your garden.  Learn clues for buying plants, such as purchasing those with a USDA Organic tag or from small local growers you know are chemical free.  Checking in on seed companies to be sure they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, thereby committing to only offering non-GMO seeds, and belonging to organizations committed to organic growing and sustainable biodiverse practices.

Step 5: Garden Layout & Planting

learn garden layout
Organic veggie & flower garden

Then, in the last step, it is time to layout where plants will go in our gardens and do our seeding and transplanting. Once you have done the other four steps, you can be confident that the garden you have built is the right one for you so those young plants and seedlings have the best chance of providing you the yummy home grown produce you desire.

Get a Free Workbook to do these 5 Steps