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 🙂

Get A List of Debby’s Recommended Seed Companies for FREE

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.

 

Get a Free List of Debby’s Favorite SEED COMPANIES 

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.

Get a FREE Soil Class.

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.

Know Your Soil – Free Soil Course 

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 

 

Announcing Online Services

Hi folks,

Super psyched to announce my new services for you..

garden class
Debby and students

Online courses – take on your own time, vs trying to match our schedules

Monthly Live Webinar series – get professional gardening info, your  questions answered real-time and help shape the topics we cover

Garden Coaching through Zoom – get reliable, consistent garden guidance from creating a year-long plan to just getting random questions answered

Enjoy and Happy Gardening! Debby

Debby’s Top 5 Round Red Tomato Varieties

tasting different tomato varitieties we grew
Tomato Tasting Tray. One thing we sometimes to for dinner at Prior Unity Garden is the tomato tasting tray, where we just try all the different kinds of tomatoes from the garden. Here is a tray with over 15 varieties – Yum !

Okay, so pretty much everybody loves to grow tomatoes, and even if some of us like the funky colors and shapes, I find that loads of gardeners keep asking me for ‘round red tomatoes’.

The main reason for growing these is because they taste good.

So, here goes with my top picks and note of why they are on my list…

  • Old Virginia – Here in Virginia, or anywhere you have hot, humid summers, this one is the one grow.
  • Old Brooks – it just tastes so darn good, with my preferred acid/sweet balance, a bit on the old fashioned acid side
  • Thessaloniki – the dependable tomato for drought or dry conditions, amazingly so!
  • Siletz – the only determinate on the list that I have grown for 30 years. Great for salsa.
  • Carmelo (F1) – the only hybrid on the list because it performs so well and tastes so smooth and rich

Hope this inspires you to step out and try more varieties.

Get more Pro Garden Tips

Dealing with Squash Vine Borers

Hey folks,

Have had a bunch of questions about dealing with squash vine borers.  Here are my 5 ways to deal with them:

  1. Resistant varieties

Debby with two Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squashes she grew
Debby with two Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squashes she grew

You can look for squash vine borer resistant varieties. The only zucchini I grow anymore is Raven, which is a hybrid. It does eventually succumb to the bug pressure, but I at least get a few weeks of zucchini from it before that happens and I take it out. I cannot recommend Black Beauty as it is a real bug magnet.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has come varieties you might want to try that are more resistant: for summer squash: Lemon Squash. For winter squash: Green-Striped Cushaw may do well for you. Last year, we did very well with the Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash (see pic of two Debby grew) which looks like a big tan pumpkin and was a big hit.. that was what was in the photo of me near the end of the presentation. Waltham Butternut is also good at borer resistance and has grown well for me.

Get Great Organic Garden Tips & a Free Workbook

  1. Hand removal

Checking daily, or every other day goes along way!  Look at the base of the main stem,  about 4” from the ground up.

If you see a bulge in the stem, there is likely a squash vine borer worm in that bulge.

To remove the worm:

  • make a vertical slit, along the stem:
  • carefully open the stem to find the worm
  • remove the worm and give it a new incarnation
  • carefully close the wound and gently wrap it with tape (the tape is optional, but helps the wound heal and keeps out dirt, etc.)
  1. Crop Rotation

Rotating crops works best if you have a large garden, say at least a couple hundred square feet, or have beds that are on opposite sides of your property.  You want to rotate all members of the cucurbit family as one rotation.  This includes not only winter and summer squash (and zucchini), but also cucumbers and melons (including watermelons).

If you do not have enough space for this, or if you have a major infestation, don’t grow this family of crops for a year or two. I have done this a couple times with good results and got to experiment with new crops in the meantime.

  1. Nematodes

One organic way to deal with these critters is by adding certain nematodes to your soil.  My go-to company for these is Arbico Organics.

  1. Pheromone Lures & Traps

Another purchased option, again from Arbico Organics, are traps with pheromone lures specifically for squash vine borers.

A Final note is that Blue Hubbard squash is known to be a squash vine borer trap crop.  Which admittedly bums us out because we love Blue Hubbard.

Get Great Organic Garden Tips & a Free Workbook

 

Easy Gardening – Why Fall & Winter is the Best

grow lettuce Got a text last week from a wonderful lady, who inspired this post.  I suspect the heavy bug pressure she in her garden this summer, is what has had she and her husband decide not to garden this fall and winter.  I see this allot, people are going into the fall, having had some difficulty gardening, whether it be bug pressure, drought, or life circumstances, get garden burn-out and stop, right when it becomes the easiest time of year to garden.

Here are 3 reasons for you to reconsider and get that fall and winter garden going:

  1. Lack of bugs – As cooler weather approaches, there are not only less bugs eating your food, but less bugs wanting to eat you. Once there is a freeze, you don’t have to worry about bug pressure until it gets warm again next spring.  A major relief.
  2. Pleasant Weather – The cooler weather is also much more pleasant to be out in your garden than the brutal heat of summer. Your garden can be a welcome haven of outdoor time when it is enjoyable to be outside. Taking an afternoon day-trip to your garden is less expensive and time consuming and still allow you to get away from work and other concerns.
  3. You get food all year! Most everyone loves their homegrown summer tomatoes. Think about how much better your homegrown tomatoes are than the ones you buy in the supermarket. Ok, translate that into your salads, green smoothies, and winter root veggie soups.  Yes, homegrown produce of any variety is going to be fresher, more satisfying  and better tasting then store bought.

You still have time, the end of September is the time in US Zone 7 to get those fall and winter transplants in the ground.

I hope all of you out there who are bailing on your garden this fall, reconsider.

Kale, raised beds and hoop house uncovered on a sunny fall day