Category Archives: Organic Gardening

2018 Garden Underwater, Again

Normally, mid-May into mid-June are the weeks where you grab a tall, cool glass of Kombucha and sit down in your comfy deck chair and watch things grow…normally.

2018 garden underwater

My garden in the mist

This year, 2018, what I am frequently doing is sighing, drying off my dogs and hoping that the cold (low 50’s right now), wet weather doesn’t finish off all the plants I raised from seed.

This is my garden, in the mist. It looks pretty good, from a distance.

But my tomato plants are really starting to show the wear of 4 weeks of wet weather. The yellowing and spotting on the leaves is spreading and, because of the persistent wet growing conditions, I don’t think I will be able to stop the destruction.

What my tomatoes have is called Septoria Leaf Spot.   

Septoria fungus

Septoria on my tomato babies.

Septoria is a fungal disease. In normal weather conditions, you can usually prevent or at least slow it down by following good gardening practices like:

  • removing diseased leaves quickly
  • watering with soaker hoses,
  • never watering at night,
  • spacing your plants so each one catches the breezes and dries out,
  • rotating where you put tomato plants from year to year.

But I’m not experiencing normal weather conditions. And this fungal disease loves it when it’s wet out.

According to Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), my back yard is the perfect storm for Septoria, “When conditions are wet, spores are exuded from the Septoria fruiting bodies present on the infected tomato leaves. Once the spores land on a healthy leaf, spotting can appear in five days if weather conditions are ideal.”

Septoria will affect my 2019 garden

Septoria will affect 2019 garden, too

Worse than experiencing Septoria, this year, is the fact that the spores shed by the fungus live on in the ground cover and even in the soil. So, even if I remove the infected foliage, even if I rotate my plants, the chances of recurrence in 2019 are high.

I certainly have ideal conditions for this fungal invader!

I will fight back this year by using an organic fungicide called Serenade. I don’t like resorting to this solution but it is non-toxic to birds, bees, beneficial insects, fish, and wildlife.

As an organic gardener, I hate introducing this into my eco-system but I know the long-term damage Septoria can cause and I have to take necessary measures to reduce or eliminate this “perennial” from my garden.

And I will soldier on with the rest of my plants because that’s what gardeners do and because there are other plants growing quietly, albeit slowly, in my garden that need tending to. Here are some photos of these brave, green soldiers.

Advertisements

What Will I Grow in 2019

One sunny day in 14 days

Planted in sun…then the floods!

Okay, so it’s a bit early to be planning the 2019 garden! I just barely finished planting this year’s garden!! But I needed a lift.

I’m a bit depressed. It has rained for 13 of the last 14 days. It will be raining for the next 3 days, at least. My rain gauge – the wheelbarrow – is full, again. All I can think of is how soggy the roots of all my beautiful, raised from seed plants are.

And I am also thinking that the 20 asparagus crowns I put in just a little over 3 weeks ago are rotting below their lovingly applied layers of compost, soil and straw.

Rain is bad enough but the temperatures are not helping, either. Our highs are in the low to mid-60’s; our lows are in the mid 50’s. Today, we will hit the low 80’s then drop to 51 degrees with…thunder storms.

So, I did what any self-respecting, home bound gardener does; I went seed shopping and here is what I got from Territorial Seed:

Autumn Harvest Beet Blend –  this is a new and what Territorial calls a, ” distinctive blend of Red  Ace, Boldor and White Albino. This blend will let me

Beet blend from Territorial Seed

Territorial Seed knows beets!

grow a range of colors that will make great ferments and relishes and will be stunning to look at, served fresh with butter.

Kalettes make great chips

Bite-sized kale ready for chips!.

Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard Organic – blending 5 varieties of chard,  Australian heirloom boasts a, “…day-glow mix of red, orange, yellow, pink and white.” Upright growth and juicy, tender stalks and succulent leaves, just what you want in Swiss chard!

Autumn Star Kalettes® –  Bite-sized, loose heads of frilly kale growing on brussel sprout-like stalks, the leaves are green and purple. These are new for this year and I for one will enjoy making kale chips with them!

Palco Spinach Organic – from seed to salad in 38 days, Territorial calls this spinach, “…adaptable to planting in both cool and warm seasons, versatile for harvest as young, baby greens or full-sized, and bolt and disease resistant.” What’s not to like?

Music & Purple Glazer Garlic –  both hard neck and both mid-season.

Territorial Seed has garlic

Hard neck garlic I love!

I love these garlics for their reliability in the ground and amazing flavor. And I love that they keep for months so I can enjoy homegrown, organic garlic all the way through the winter!

I complemented my order from Territorial Seed Company with some seeds from another favorite organic source, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Here is what I ordered from Baker Creek to lift my spirits:

Blauhilde Bean – my all time favorite pole bean with a great growth habit and prolific production of the tastiest green beans on the planet…which are actually deep purple pods! In any case, I have not planted any other pole bean or green bean since I met Blauhilde.

Prosperosa eggplant

Prosperosa eggplant from Baker  Creek

Prosperosa Eggplant – straight out of Tuscany by way of Baker Seeds, this beautiful eggplant is round to slightly teardrop shaped, and sometimes very slightly ribbed.

The deep purple exterior holds the mild, tender white flesh that’s  as good as the fruit looks. The Prosperosa and the Bianca Rosa are my favorite eggplants.

German Lunchbox Tomato – The fruits of this tomato are supposedly the size of a small egg. Pink and sugar sweet, Baker Creek Heirlooms say they are begging to be eaten. Perfectly sized for salads or putting in the lunchbox and my “new” tomato for 2019.

Tendergreen Burpless Cucumber – I have developed a liking for cukes that don’t disrupt my digestion, hence the burpless variety I ordered this year.  Medium-dark green, 7-12 inches long and prolific, I also bought these because, per the description, they tolerate cool soil and excessive moisture better than many. Welcome to my world!

Queen of the May butterhead lettuce

Queen of the May butterhead lettuce from Baker Creek

May Queen Lettuce – I am a sucker for butterhead lettuce….

This one is called the crown jewel of the heirloom garden. “Tender, yellow hearts are gently blushed rose, and the leaves are ethereally soft with the buttery sweet flavor.” Yum.  And good for planting in early in Spring or in Fall.

BTW now is the best time to get your heirloom, non-GMO, organic seeds from companies like Territorial Seed Company and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. Wait too long, especially for garlic, and they will all be gone!

There will be more seeds in my 2019 garden plan and probably replacement asparagus crowns (now that the trenches are already dug). But just knowing that these are on the way is making me smile on yet, another gray day!

2018 Garden is In – But Oy The Weather…

2018 Garden enjoying sun

2018 garden enjoying sun

So, my garden is now, totally in the ground.

This year I planted garlic, onions, lettuce, beets, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers (still considering zucchini), green beans, asparagus, of course and herbs like basil and Italian parsley.

I finished putting the last Bianca Rosa in the ground Saturday morning.

Bianca Rosa eggplant

Baby Bianca Rosa eggplant

Saturday evening, we got 70 MPH winds, driving hail and torrential rain with a side order of thunder and lightning and the threat of a tornado!

The baby eggplant survived…and seem to be settling in to their truck bed.

But I live outside of Philadelphia…in Pennsylvania! We don’t get tornadoes. Oh, wait, we do now courtesy of the non-existent global warming and the ever increasing turbulence of our weather and of the very earth itself.

It has rained every day since last Tuesday. It is going to rain again tonight. In fact, we are under a flood watch from 4PM today to 2AM tomorrow morning. We might get a day or two of clearing, then all that rain that is currently drowning Floridians will be…here.

Tomato plants hanging on to their trellis

Tomato plants hanging on, literally

Even my tomatoes have toughed it out…although they are looking just a bit “wan.”

As with every year, there are, of course challenges – bugs…rabbits, deer. But this year, it seems that Mother Earth is setting about re-balancing her planet – with or without us.

But there will be vegetables and fruit in my backyard this summer. Most of these plants will survive. And so will I.  I will keep on gardening, keep growing.

My garden will grow

My garden will grow

And I will keep praying that we, the humans who inhabit this planet, slow down a bit, become more aware of the risk and start backpedaling from taking, using, devouring and otherwise destroying this magnificent home on which live and orbit the universe.

How To Plant Asparagus, Again!

My husband and I got good news last Thursday, really good news. His most recent PET scan was clear! We did a little jig then sat down and tried to let it sink in a bit. No new melanoma! No metastases.

Old asparagus bed slowing down.

20 year old asparagus bed

So, what does this have to do with planting asparagus? Everything!

My current asparagus bed is close to 25 years old. To say it’s slowed down is a bit of an understatement. The bed is actually a bit glacial when it comes to putting up tasty green spears of asparagus.

I needed a new bed but I was afraid to plant new crowns…in case the diagnosis for my husband was not a good one. Asparagus is one perennial that, once planted, keeps on giving. I just wasn’t sure we would be here to enjoy it.

 

So, my celebration last Thursday culminated in me ordering 20 new, Jersey Knight male asparagus crowns! I ordered 1 year old crowns as they are usually a bit “healthier” than 2 year old crowns — meaning they will grow a bit more vigorously in their first few years and be less prone to rotting.

No matter what I ordered, my first question the next morning was, “What was I thinking?”

I think I’d actually forgotten what it meant to “plant” asparagus. Okay, you only have to do it once to reap the rewards..but doing entails some pretty hard work especially at my ripe old age of 70!

Asparagus is planted in trenches

Trenching for new asparagus crowns

The crowns are on their way so, this morning, just 3 days after ordering, I was in the garden, digging. I picked a spot that gets almost continuous sunshine all day long. That’s just what asparagus likes.

Asparagus crowns need trenches

2 trenches done & 3 to go

 

Asparagus crowns need to be planted in trenches.

My soil is a bit on heavy side so I only had to dig down 6 inches…and the trenches should be 12 inches wide.

I cheated a bit on the width but I got the length I needed in each trench to be able to put 4 crowns in each one. If you’re doing the math, you might notice that I only have 4 trenches dug. I will probably need the 5th trench but I just can’t face it, right now. Tomorrow is another day.

 

In fact, tomorrow, I will dig the other trench but I need to prep all 5 trenches to receive their new crowns.

What’s the next step? I will need to add a dash of organic compost to each hole. When the new asparagus crowns arrive, I will also soak them in compost tea (compost and water) for about 30 minutes before I plant them.  When I do put them in the trenches, I’ll make sure they are crown side up. Also, I’ll be careful to gently spread the crown out and give the roots room.

Once in the trench, I won’t put all the soil back in the trench on top of the crowns. I’ll just add 2 to 3 inches of soil to the entire trench,  gently tamping the soil down – NOT packing it. Once the crowns are set, I usually just water them in with my watering can, again, gently.

Two weeks later, I’ll add 2 to 3 more inches of soil to the trench. Then I’ll keep watch on the bed and add more soil to the trench until it is slightly raised.  Then, all you have to do is make sure you mulch the rows and water the new bed regularly during its first 2 years in the ground. A note of caution, don’t over water. An accepted rule of thumb is water once a week unless it’s rained then you can skip watering.

Do not harvest any asparagus the first year. Harvest sparingly in the second year. The crowns need to put all their energy into sinking tap roots and growing their root structure. The third year, start cutting but make sure you leave enough for some stalks to fern and grow up.

Our dog cooling under the asparagus ferns

Dogs like to cool down in the asparagus

Leave the ferns over top of the bed, letting them die in place and not cutting them until the next Spring.

Dogs love to cool down under them and the dead ferns provide protection for the crowns during the winter.

Once Spring arrives, cut down and remove the dead ferns.

Then sit back and wait for beautiful, green, healthy and delicious asparagus!

 

Grow So Easy – Growing Garlic

Garlic is easy to grow and has much more taste if it's homegrown.

Growing garlic is easy.

I got lucky when I married Italian because garlic is, was and always will be one of my favorite foods in the kitchen. And it’s one of my favorites to plant.

Garlic is another crop that basically takes care of itself. If you get the right cloves to plant then give those cloves a good start in the right soil at the right time, you should harvest enough nice-sized bulbs of garlic to last through the year.

The Bad News
Garlic is planted in the fall. If you didn’t put your garlic seed (cloves actually) in the ground in October, it’s too late to plant it now.

If you plant in the Spring, you are doomed to fail.  Seed garlic is dormant.  It MUST be exposed to cold temperatures in order to grow and change from cloves to bulbs. 

No cold means no bulbs, spindly growth and frustrated gardeners.
Besides, planting in the fall means that Mother Nature gets to do all the work while you sit inside browsing through seed catalogs and dreaming of spring.

The Good News

Garlic growing in the spring

Garlic in the Spring

If you planted your cloves in the fall, you should already have healthy, happy garlic babies growing in the soil.

Planting when the world is getting frosty, the snow is falling and the wind is cold  seems wrong and it would be if that’s all you did.

But there’s an easy, cheap trick to keeping your garlic safe through the blustery winter months; you blanket them in straw. The straw protects the bulbs from the cold, lets them overwinter safely and ensures they will be ready to start growing as early as March.

Garlic growing through straw

Garlic poking through its blanket

Once Spring arrives, it’s important to uncover the garlic as soon as possible so the sprouts don’t rot.  If they rot, you will lose your garlic crop.  Here’s an easy tip for knowing when to uncover garlic (and onions).  When the forsythia bloom, pull back the mulch.  You may even find a few garlic bulbs already sprouted under there.

Protect cool weather crops with window frames

Sheers stapled to window frames

Depending on your zone, you will probably get a few frosts after you uncover the garlic.  Just toss something over the young plants to protect them.  I use window frames that I’ve stapled old curtains to or an old queen-sized mattress cover and drape it over the corners of the bed where the garlic is planted.

Harvesting Garlic
How do you know when to pull the garlic up?  Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. And the more I researched and read, the more confused I got.

Pull it up on this day/date.  When the leaves on one or two start to brown, push the rest of them over, wait a week and pull them up.  Wait until all the leaves on the plants are brown then pull them up.   Aaaaaaargh…as one our most famous philosophers used to say!

What finally cleared it all up for me was a simple, beautifully written article by one of my favorite garden gurus, Margaret Roach, who clearly understands the garlic harvest conundrum.

Too early, and the bulbs won’t have time to develop to their full size.  Too late and the bulbs will be over ripe, cloves will separate and the harvest won’t store as well.

Here’s the gist of Roach’s advice for harvesting garlic:  Harvest when several of the lower leaves go brown, but five or six up top are still green. Depending on the weather, this typically happens here (New York state) in late July.”

Rip & Regret
A word to the wise: healthy garlic develops a pretty serious root structure.  Do NOT try to pull garlic up by its greenery!  You will break the tops off and the garlic bulbs really need their tops to cure.

So, what’s the easiest way to pull these babies out of the ground?  With a garden fork – not the hand-held kind.  You want a flat-tined, digging fork like the kind you would use to dig out potatoes, like the one you see resting next to my garlic in my wheelbarrow.

  1. Start about 2 to 3 inches away from the garlic bulb.
  2. Push the tines down into the earth, almost as far as they will go.
  3. Rock the fork front to back and side to side to loosen the dirt around the roots of the bulb.
  4. Keep loosening until you can easily and gently pull the bulb from the ground.
  5. Equally gently, lay the cloves into a wheelbarrow.  Banging them will bruise them.

As soon as all your bulbs of garlic are out of the ground, you need to get them out of the sun and into a nice, dry, temperature controlled space with good air flow.  I use my shed.  I lay down an old sheet, then place the bulbs side by side but not touching.  I want air flow around each bulb.  And if one’s going south, I don’t want it to take the others with it.

Curing Garlic
Once you have them in your controlled drying spot, leave them alone for 6 to 8 weeks while they cure.  (I do check them to make sure none are going bad…). When they are cured, If they’re soft neck, braid away.

If they’re hard neck (what I always raise), you can cut the tops and the hairy roots off and store them inside.  I actually put mine in a big tray and shove the tray under the dresser in my sewing room.

The temperature is moderate in this room (I keep the thermostat at 62 in the winter) and the light is dim under the dresser.  My garlic seems to keep perfectly there.

NOTE:  check the cloves about every 6 weeks, especially if there is any aroma of  “garlic” wafting through the air.  If you can smell the garlic, it means one of the bulbs is probably going bad.  If you leave it in the general population, it may turn other heads bad, as well.

Save 8 to 10 bulbs of your garlic for planting in October and November and enjoy the rest, all winter and spring.

Free Organic Gardening Book – How To Harden Off Before Transplanting

Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini wait for transplanting

Veggie plants waiting for transplant.

Is it planting time yet?

Every single year, that is the question I ask myself.

Why? Partly because I want to put my hands in dirt and partly because I am surrounded…by plants. They are everywhere…

This is my office…cum plant nursery.

Yesterday the temperature was 82 degrees; this morning, it’s 42 degrees. The weather seems to be even more capricious than ever and that means planning a planting date is pretty much impossible. The upshot is that this gardener remains indoors with trays of plants crowding the top of her desk and claiming space on the floor.

Zucchini, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant being baked in the sun.

Plants being burned by the sun.

Well, the plants and I are indoors except when we are both, literally going outdoors, for a few hours, every single day.  I put them out in the morning but by 2:30 PM, all of them are back, inside, feeling the burn.

This is the dance I like to call the “hardening off” cha cha! 

Peppers, cukes, zukes and eggplant baking on the patio.

Veggie transplants baking in the sun.

Hardening off is necessary to move the plants from a controlled environment into the world of wind, sun, rain and changing temperatures. Don’t harden off and your plants will die. 

So, for the next 2 weeks or maybe even 3, I will be lovingly, carefully and constantly toting trays of plants in and out of my office door.

At some point, I will have to make a decision to put them in the ground then stand by my raised beds, saying small prayers over their little green bodies.

After all, planting time here in Eastern Pennsylvania is usually early May, the merry, malleable and every changing month of May! So here’s hoping I get my garden in the ground by May 6th and the wind and snow head North for their last blast of winter!

Free Organic Gardening Book: Tomato Stakes

Tomatoes too big for pots

Office full of tomatoes in April!

I share a ton of tips for tools, growing and planting in my book and on this blog.

In fact, I share ways that can help you drop the cost of gardening down to pennies and, if you save your own seed, down to zero.

Today, I want to share 2 new discoveries I have recently made.  You might say I discovered these tools and wrote these tips out of desperation.

You see, I am surrounded by  rapidly growing seedlings like these tomatoes and I needed to think fast about keeping them healthy!

So today, instead of a chapter in my organic gardening book, I’d like to introduce you to marshmallow sticks and dress socks! (No, I have not been drinking my homemade brandy this morning…yes, these are real tips that are very helpful.)

Socks and marshmallow sticks on the job

Marshmallow sticks & socks!

As you know, every year I try a few new seeds in my garden. This year, I went for Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomatoes from Baker Seeds.

They were described on Baker Seeds as, “… elongated, large cherries in clusters.

The color (and flavor!) is a full-blown assault on the senses—lavender and purple stripes, turning to technicolor olive-green, red, and brown/blue stripes when fully ripe.”

These seeds are vigorous – all of them sprouted…along with the 30 other tomato seeds I planted, a bit too early. Most of them are what is known in tomato land as “indeterminate” i.e. they grow to be 9 to 12 feet high!

Tomatoes in needs of stakes

Last year’s knitting needles don’t cut it.

So, today, I am surrounded by 22 tomato plants (and I have 17 more in the basement) that have simply outgrown their 5″ peat pots and my amazing plant stand!

And I won’t be able to re-home some of them and transplant the rest for another 4 to 5 weeks.

Panic set in…and after a sleepless night or two, I started searching for solutions. Luckily, I found a place to get black plastic nursery pots at a reasonable price. So I picked up some organic potting soil from my local feed store and set about transplanting the biggest tomatoes first.

Then I realized I needed to stake these babies, even in their new, 8″ high pots. However, the only stakes I could come up with – aka “splits” as they are known in the biz, were bamboo, dyed green and the only quantity for purchase? 1000. That’s not a typo; I could only find them in packs of 1000.

I’m 70 years old. The odds of me using 1000 bamboo splits before I…split, are slim to none. So I started to think laterally and guess what?

Marshmallow sticks for tomato stakes

Marshmallow sticks in a bundle.

That’s how I found marshmallow sticks. I got one package of 100 sticks, 3/8″ in diameter and 30 inches long on Amazon for chump change.

They work beautifully which leads me to my second discovery. I retired 3 times…(bear with me, it is relevant). I was an executive for most of my career and introduced the pants suit to my 20th century corporation 30 years ago. (It was an unwritten rule that women had to wear dresses or skirts — yep…amazing considering that this was the 1990’s.)

Anyway, pants suits meant dress socks. When I finally retired, for the 3rd time, I donated almost all of my “executive” wardrobe to an agency working with battered women — so-called displaced homemakers.

Socks and marshmallow sticks

The dynamic duo for tomato staking.

But I forgot about the socks….until I staked my tomatoes. What better way to tie the tomato plants to the marshmallow sticks? Soft, easy to cut and even easier to tie, my heap of socks began earning their keep again!

 

 

Socks as tomato ties

Tender ties for tomatoes.

The short ties are soft and easy to put in place, tenderly holding these baby tomatoes against their marshmallow sticks.

I also cut long ties that will be used for these babies once they are trellised in my yard.

And I kept some of the socks whole so I can slip them over cucumbers and zucchini that are being attacked by stripey, aggressive and tiny beetles (on my top 10 list of bugs I hate!)

So, I may not outlive the marshmallow sticks and, considering what the socks are made of, I know I won’t outlive the plant ties but I am truly, deeply grateful for both. Now I know my beautiful, too tall tomato plants will not just make it to the great outdoors but will thrive there.